SUMMIT COUNTY, Ohio (WOIO) - Starting this week, people in Ohio with certain preexisting conditions are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine no matter their age; at least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
Janeil Whitworth made two vaccination appointments, one at Giant Eagle and one at Walgreens, only to have them canceled shortly after. The pharmacies told her she didn’t qualify because she wasn’t 65 years old, but her age shouldn’t matter since she has cystic fibrosis.
The 30-year-old has been battling cystic fibrosis her entire life.
“Over the course of time, I’m slowly losing my ability to breathe, so my lung function is about 65% of normal right now,” explained Whitworth.
The Northfield mother has been hospitalized on many occasions. She also has diabetes related to her illness. So, the pandemic has been especially tough on her family.
“I’ve essentially been sheltering in place since March, since the start of the pandemic,” she explained. “My family also has been sheltering in place because I’m such a high risk, so we have a three-year-old, and I’m married to my husband.”
So when Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced that starting February 15, people with cystic fibrosis would be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, she was over the moon.
“We were very unsure in the CF community if cystic fibrosis would be listed specifically under the conditions, and so when I heard that it was, I was so excited,” Whitworth said. “It just offered a glimmer of hope that my life could potential be a little bit more normal working into the spring and summer and that my sons’ life could go back to a little bit more normal.”
Whitworth has had two appointments canceled that were scheduled after the February 15 start date. She tried explaining that she was eligible because of her illness.
“They honestly had no idea that starting February 15 that we were eligible to receive a vaccine at retail pharmacies,” Whitworth said. “I think they just assumed that anyone with a condition will be going to the doctor or hospital, which is not the case.”
Whitworth has tried to get vaccinated at the hospitals too. She’s on the waitlist for the hospitals as well as the Summit County Health Department.
“Really frustrating to just be denied and then moving forward even to get another appointment you basically have to devote like hours just refreshing the page and typing in different ZIP Codes just to stumble upon one that’s open,” Whitworth said.
Whitworth says she tries the websites every single day, and cystic fibrosis still is not listed as a preexisting condition. She was able to schedule her previous appointment by selecting “weakened immune system” and “diabetes.”
“As of last night, when I went on certain retail pharmacies, I was not able to get through to the scheduler,” she said. “It still said that I was ineligible even though starting February 15, I definitely was eligible. It’s very discouraging that someone who you know watches a random press conference will know information faster than the retail pharmacies that are in charge of this rollout for the community. It just is very, very frustrating.”
19 News reached out to the governor’s office and both pharmacies.
Giant Eagle looked into the issues, and gave Cleveland 19 a new statement on Wednesday.
“We have established processes in place that have enabled us to communicate with our Ohio Giant Eagle pharmacy teams in a timely and effective manner as the state’s phased approach to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has progressed,” according to spokeswoman Jannah Jablonowski. “We were nevertheless disappointed to learn that an honest error made by a pharmacist at our Wadsworth Giant Eagle pharmacy resulted in Ms. Whitworth’s mistakenly cancelled appointment. We have since followed up with our store team to ensure alignment going forward, and have also made outreach to Ms. Whitworth to reschedule her vaccine appointment.”
A spokesperson for Gov. DeWine’s office said they investigated the incident and said it was one of a just a few issues their office had heard of.
While Giant Eagle admitted the error to DeWine’s office, they do not feel this was part of a systemic problem.
Walgreens told us they are looking into the issue and we have not heard back at this time.
Whitworth was able to schedule another appointment for Friday at Rite Aid. She is crossing her fingers that it does not get canceled. She also plans on bringing a doctor’s note with her.