Death care workers in the Buckeye State seek access to COVID-19 vaccines

Coronavirus in Ohio

South Point, OHIO (WOWK) — As COVID-19 vaccinations become more widely available, many first responders and at-risk populations are getting vaccinated.

However, one group of professionals in Ohio feels they have been overlooked, and they are fighting to be placed in one of the early vaccination phases.

“You’re hard-pressed to find a profession that has more continual exposure to the individual decedent than funeral service.” 

Rob Kimes, executive director, West Virginia Funeral Directors and Crematory Operators Association

At first, death care workers were recognized as a high-priority group due to their high risk of exposure to COVID-19.

“Two different national agencies declared that death care workers should be placed in phase 1-A with vaccine plans. Then we determined that the states would make those decisions.” 

Melissa Sullivan, executive director, Ohio Funeral Directors Association

When it was left up to individual states to decide, some left funeral home professionals off of the list.

“To me, it was a huge oversight on somebody’s part.” 

Richard Slack, co-owner, Slack and Wallace Funeral Home

The West Virginia Funeral Directors and Crematory Operators Association managed to get back on the vaccination schedule after lobbying the governor.

“The governor’s office acknowledged…the fact of the funeral personnel play in the role of the deceased.” 

Rob Kimes, executive director, West Virginia Funeral Directors and Crematory Operators Association

Now, nearly 400 of the 700 death care workers over the age of 50 in the Mountain State have been vaccinated.

Ohio has not been successful in this endeavor.

“As of today we still do not know where we will be identified in vaccination plans. Ohio is one of eight states in the country that we are aware of that have not communicated the full plan.” 

Melissa Sullivan, executive director, Ohio Funeral Directors Association

This is concerning to experts because of the high risk of transmission from not only the deceased, but their loved ones as they gather for funeral services.

This concern is so great, employees at Slack and Wallace Funeral Home in South Point, Ohio, actually went out of state to get their vaccinations done.

“Kentucky saw the problem that we were in and they agreed that we should be able to get the vaccine.” 

Richard Slack, co-owner, Slack and Wallace Funeral Home

“Funeral directors also are on the frontline of this pandemic and need to be protected. 

Melissa Sullivan, executive director, Ohio Funeral Directors Association

Funeral home professionals maintain they will continue to get those who are on the frontlines of the pandemic the vaccine protection they need.

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