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Reporter roundtable: Where Ohio and other states rank in the vaccine rollout

Journalists across the country talk about how the process is going in Ohio, California, Colorado, Texas, Florida, and Oregon.

CLEVELAND — When it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, it's basically 50 different plans happening all at once, with different degrees of success.

So where does Ohio rank when compared to other states? 3News investigator Rachel Polansky compared notes with five reporters from around the country to find out what's working and what's not. The group also went over the complaints coming into their newsrooms the most.

Here's how the conversation went.

Editors note: This conversation has been edited for brevity.

What's working?

Mike Duffy, ABC10, Sacramento

"You've got to keep in mind that California is a state of 40 million people, so it's a huge undertaking, no matter what happens. And the fact of the matter is we are getting shots in people's arms, albeit at a very middle-of-the-road pace. I would say right now we have gotten about 15% of people at least one dose and 5% have gotten two doses. 

"The government sent us 11.5 million doses, and we have used about 8.5 million of those. So that sounds pretty good, but we are 29th out of 59 states and municipalities, and that just puts us at about a C average. So it's good, but it's average."

Jennifer Titus, 10News WTSP, Tampa

"So in Florida, we actually started out with a seniors-first approach, and at first, it was a mess like everywhere else. The infrastructure wasn't there, the website was crashing, the phone lines were going unanswered. 

"After a couple of weeks, basically, the state rolled out a statewide registration system for most of the counties, and some of the counties also just outsourced with a contractor to run the appointments and the bookings. Right now, more than 50% of our senior population has been vaccinated, and they just started opening up new groups this week.

"We're seeing some law enforcement, school teachers, firefighters over 50 being vaccinated, and especially with this Johnson & Johnson approval, we're getting a lot of vaccines into the state. People that will call me saying, 'Oh, we're having such a hard time finding an appointment,' and a day or two later, I get a phone call that said they were able to book. It does seem to be getting better as more of these vaccines are coming in."

Chris Vanderveen, 9News, Denver

"Colorado right now is good, not great. I think the best thing that can be said about Colorado is that we are really, really close to getting 70% of our 70-year-olds and older vaccinated. Right now, that's a big deal in a state like Colorado. It's a big deal around the country to get that most vulnerable group vaccinated.

"As of Friday, we were super close to at least getting one dose in the arms with people 70 and older, 70% of those people. It's a wickedly complex number, but it's really the metric that the state is sort of going on. And today we learned that long-term care facilities, the number of cases in those facilities—probably not surprising because we'd gotten a lot of vaccine in the arms of these folks—those case numbers are going way down just within the last two weeks. We're seeing really tangible evidence that the vaccine is working and it's preventing cases, iIt's preventing hospitalizations in the most vulnerable population."

Brad Streicher, KVUE, Austin, Texas

"Texas, like California, also has a massive population on its hands, obviously. So trying to get the vaccine into people's arms is going to be a huge undertaking, regardless.

"The one thing that, I think, our state is doing fairly well—I've seen reports in several different cities and other states across the country that are having some issues with a lot of doses that are being wasted, either improper storage or other issues. I think that we see a relatively lower number, especially in our local area of Austin. We're seeing very few of those doses being wasted."

Rachel Polansky, 3News, Cleveland

"I think our governor had a good idea in that we targeted the most vulnerable first, being the front line workers and the elderly in long-term care facilities. I think that hurt us as well because, you know, it's easier to give everyone shots. Instead, we chose specific groups and it slowed us down. I think it was a good idea, but I don't think it was implemented as smoothly as I've seen in other states."

Cristin Severance, KGW, Portland, Oregon

"The state has done a really good job when it comes to COVID deaths in general. We've had the strictest lockdowns, but we've also had a really low number of deaths. I think only Alaska, Maine, and Hawaii have lower numbers in terms of people dying from COVID.

"And then when it comes to the vaccine rollout, we've also done a decent job of getting shots in arms. I just checked the numbers and we've used 82% of our supply."

What's not working?

Mike Duffy, Sacramento

"When it comes to mass vaccination sites, the idea is wonderful. The reality is impractical, especially here in California, where it's a really decentralized approach.

"So the state gives the vaccine to each of the counties and then they get to choose how they distribute it and kind of under what guidelines. Even if the state says teachers can get the vaccine, it's ultimately up to the counties. And now, if you want to get the vaccine at one of these massive vaccination sites, you have to either live or work in that county, which kind of defeats the purpose of this mass vaccination site, where all these people can go. 

"So we get a lot of confusion here in California, where people are asking, 'Hey, can I go to blank stadium and get my vaccine?' And the answer is almost always no, unless you live or work in that county. So it's been pretty haphazard here."

Brad Streicher, Austin, Texas

"The lack of streamlining the process is an issue that we've seen here in Texas. I think one of the things that we're doing worst with vaccine rollout is simply the organization of figuring out not only how to communicate this to people, but, for example, we reported very early on that even though there are lists of requirements for certain individuals who qualify in these different groups who can get the vaccine, the state is not requiring providers to confirm any details about anybody who's getting that vaccine. And so we've reported on cases where people who do not meet those standards are going in and getting this vaccine ahead of the time when they should be getting it, which is them taking it away, obviously, from somebody else who falls into that high-risk category and could use the shot."

Chris Vanderveen, Denver

"Here in Colorado, we, like many states, elected to not really have a centralized location for the distribution of vaccines, and that's led to a lot of confusion over the last few weeks as people sort of scrambled to figure out where to get the vaccine from.

"There are a lot of providers in the state of Colorado; there are a lot of providers just in the Denver metro area. And because of that, people are signing up on multiple lists to get vaccines from multiple providers, and then they'll get their vaccine from one provider. And there's really no great way to tell the other provider that they already got the vaccine, so it's led to a lot of confusion along the way with people just trying to figure out where and when they're eligible. 

"Combine that with the fact that the governor has sort of changed the rules a couple of times. Restaurant workers thought they would be getting vaccinated this week; that's now not going to happen. Grocery store workers are getting vaccinated starting at the end of the week here in Colorado, but a lot of people [are] wondering when is their spot going to be, when is their time going to be coming up. We've been fairly efficient in getting the vaccine out, but the problem so far has been the communication. It has not been good. They're getting better, but it certainly has been a problem."

Jennifer Titus, Tampa

"I think we are the one state that doesn't have a plan. I think if you guys look at all of your departments of health, you'll see a plan where it says this group is up, now this group's next and this group is after that.

"Well, Florida doesn’t have that. The governor is kind of just taking it day-by-day. He basically has been on this senior-first approach. Now [that] we've gotten a lot of our seniors vaccinated, he's like, 'All right, I'm going to lower the age probably next week, maybe to 60 and over or 55 and over.' So really, the thing is: Who's next? Who's going to be able to get those vaccines next? And there's a lot of push, of course, for teachers and other people that find themselves on the front lines waiting to get vaccinated."

Rachel Polansky, Cleveland

"Our governor has taken the approach of vaccinating non-nursing home elderly through our local pharmacies, instead of, say, a mass vaccination site. He has said that he's done that because he thinks it'll make the elderly more comfortable to go to a pharmacy instead of a place they haven't been before. 

"That being said, a mass vaccination site will be coming to Cleveland later this month, so we'll see how it goes.

"Ohio is middle of the road when it comes to getting shots in arms. As of Friday, we're ranked No. 31, administering 75% of the doses we have."

Cristin Severance, Portland, Ore.

"I would say in Oregon, what's not working is there's just a ton of frustration and confusion on how to sign up for the vaccine. So there are five or six different sites just in the Portland metro area where you can go to sign up, and none of the sites can really handle a lot of people. So just the technology part of it, you would think, would be a little bit better.

"And then in Oregon, we're one of two states that did prioritize teachers ahead of seniors, and so 65 and up just started March 1."

Biggest complaints

Rachel Polansky, Cleveland

"Could we do better? Definitely. Could we do worse? Sure. The big complaint we've gotten from viewers is delays. Now, the delays in shipment can be contributed to several factors. As I mentioned earlier, being in Ohio, the winter storms didn't help us. 

"There's also been a lot of confusion around our online-only scheduling of vaccine appointments. To top it off, I think our early eligibility lists were too stringent."

Mike Duffy, Sacramento

"I would really say that decentralization has been our biggest problem to this point, and really because the state thought that would be the best way to address individual communities, what we're learning is that in a vaccination campaign like this, it just doesn't work well fast enough, and this has led to confusion.

"The state will say 'Teachers are allowed to be vaccinated,' but when the teacher tries to sign up in their particular county, that county will stop them and say, 'Actually, not right now. We're still vaccinating our seniors,' or, 'We're still vaccinating those people in group-care facilities.' So that has been a continued problem. 

"And I'd also like to highlight one thing that's really particular to California here, which is farmworkers. Farmworkers are all over the country, but here in California, we grow two-thirds of all the country's fruits and vegetables, and it really matters what these farmworkers are doing and if they're staying healthy. In these communities, also, many of them tend to be undocumented, and many of them have a distrust of the health care system in general. Plus, they're transient, and in order to keep them safe, you actually need to bring the vaccine to them. It's unlikely that they're going to show up to a clinic, but if you make that available to them, then there will be great uptake.

"And so the counties, the state, have had to rethink all of these different methods that it thought it was going to use, and it's been slow to do that.

Brad Streicher, Austin, Texas

"In Texas, some of the biggest complaints have been [that] the lack of organization of the rollout process from the state and the local governments has been an issue. Communication for people is far and beyond one of the biggest complaints that we're hearing about. We are seeing a lot of people who will get the first dose and then they don't hear anything about getting the second dose, or they're not being followed up with as quickly as they thought."

Jennifer Titus, Tampa

"I think in Florida, and probably all across the country really, it's been that the demand just outweighs the supply. So, people qualify to get this vaccine, they think they're going to get it, and then they go to book an appointment and those appointments just aren't there. And of course, we're covering the story where these sites can do up to 2,000 vaccines a day, but when you talk to them and ask them, 'Well, are you doing that? Do you have the vaccine, the supply to do that?' they're like, 'Well, no, we don't.' So that's the issue that we're dealing with, that we still don't have the supply, that demand is still outweighing the supply."

Cristin Severance, Portland Ore.

"So, you know, the governor prioritized teachers ahead of seniors. Some other states said, 'Yes, we want teachers to get the vaccine,' but Oregon really said, 'Teachers are going to come first, even though seniors are dying the most from COVID.' Gov. Brown put teachers first; that has been the biggest complaint, by far. It's unfair because it pits the seniors against teachers, but that's just the way it is. I mean, that's who she decided to vaccinate. That's really been the center of a lot of complaints. 

"Also, you talk about equity, Oregon talks a lot about equity. They created this 27-member panel. Their entire goal was to figure out how to roll this out in a fair way and how to make sure these underrepresented communities would get the vaccine. With 27 people meeting once a week to decide this, as you can imagine, it didn't really work. It was a lot of talk. They had some good ideas, but they really had no power. So that's very on par with Oregon, where we talk a lot about these things, but really at the end of the day, there's no direct action to make sure that the vaccine is, in fact, equitable."

Chris Vanderveen, Denver

"I think here in Colorado, there's lots and lots of demand and not nearly enough supply, and that hasn't changed for a number of weeks. A lot of people want to get the vaccine, which is a good thing at the end of the day. The supply just simply hasn't gotten up to where the public wants it to be.

"Another issue that certainly is being raised here in Colorado is just the disproportionate angle. When it comes to vaccine distribution, I'm just looking at Denver numbers right now, people who identify as Hispanic or Latino made up close to 50% of all cases in the city and county of Denver. Roughly one out of every two cases in the city and county of Denver was Hispanic or Latino. Yet they've only made up 9.1% of the vaccine distribution. That's a problem for the city, that's a problem for the state. It is not going out equitably, and that is something that city leaders and state leaders are trying to address right now. They know they have a problem on their hands, but they simply have not been able to roll this out in a fair and equitable way, across the board, and that's something that people are noticing here in Colorado as well."

Watch more of our conversation below: