Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Sunday the push is on for more vaccinations, not mask mandates or other restrictions, as new COVID numbers continue to climb as a result of the spread of the coronavirus delta variant.
“We certainly have room to grow,” the Republican governor told CNN’s “State of the Union,” after noting the vaccination rate for people ages 12 and older is at about 50%. “We have had a significant increase in vaccinations in the last week or so. I think it’s the fear of the delta variant is certainly one of the causes.”
The biggest increase is happening in the state’s rural counties as more people hear about the climbing numbers, said DeWine, adding Ohio has started a new program to focus on Medicaid recipients.
“What we saw was that the rest of the Medicaid population was really under-vaccinated compared to the general population, so we have started a few weeks ago an incentive, $100 to help people who are on Medicaid,” he said. “Some of them are fearful, frankly, of being off work, some are fearful of some side effects.”
The state is also working with major pharmacies to initiate counseling programs, and as a result of both initiatives, there has been a “significant increase” of Medicaid recipients getting their shots, said DeWine.
The state Health Department can give counties tracking data so they can determine what neighborhoods are lagging when it comes to vaccinations, he added.
Instead of new mandates, the state of Ohio last week came out with recommendations that leave it up to local school districts to determine rulings on vaccinations and masks, DeWine continued.
“The population in school, kids in school, most of them are unvaccinated,” said the governor. “Obviously we can’t get anybody 11 and younger vaccinated yet…we had great success last winter, last school year. We saw virtually no spread in the classroom with all of the kids were wearing masks. So we recommend a strong recommendation to our schools that they do that. Some will do that, some will not.”
DeWine came under criticism earlier this year for starting a vaccination “lottery” with drawings to reward recipients with either a $1 million prize or a college scholarship, but on Sunday he defended the program as something that worked.
“We think well over 100,000 extra people were vaccinated at a minimum because of that, who either would not have been vaccinated or who would have delayed vaccinations, so it was very, very successful,” said DeWine. “It was something that worked and we’re glad we did it.”