TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - Lucas County health officials are in a race to vaccinate as many residents as possible against COVID-19 in the shadow of emerging and spreading variants.

Tuesday, health leaders confirmed their first cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in Lucas County, first detected in the United Kingdom. The CDC said Tuesday night there are now 158 cases of the U.K. Variant confirmed in Ohio, an increase of 30 from Sunday. Meanwhile, Michigan is reporting 986 cases of the UK Variant, the second-most in the country, and an increase of 60% since Sunday.

“We have to keep doing the same precautions that we have been doing but also get vaccinated,” said Lucas County Health Commissioner Eric Zgodzinski. “The two go hand in hand. The more people get vaccinated, the less chance it has to jump from person to person, and the quicker we get out of the COVID issue.”

The challenge is convincing skeptics to get vaccine appointments as the state prepares to open them to everyone 16 years and older on Monday.

Zgodzinski said he believes more people are willing to get the shots now than they were in December when the shots started going into the arms of Ohioans.

“As time goes on, people are feeling more comfortable, they’re seeing people get vaccinated, they understand that the vaccine is going to protect them from COVID and protect their families,” Zgodzinski said. “Those are all messages I think resonate.”

In Lucas County, about 1-in-4 residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine. That includes 69% of people ages 75-79 and 65% of residents ages 65-69.

Zgodzinski said it’s going to be important for young people to take advantage of the expanded eligibility once it moves to 16+ on Monday. He said even though the messaging from health officials can sometimes sound like a broken record, he said it’s critical to convincing more people to roll up their sleeves.

“I really do believe that it’s a continuation of the discussion about the vaccine -- that it’s safe, that it’s been trialed immensely,” Zgodzinski said. “We’ve seen that many of our friends and relatives have been vaccinated without undue stress or concern. The vaccine is a very viable option for everybody to protect themselves from COVID.”

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