Vaccine access opens to 16+ as worries grow over spring break spike

COVID-19 Vaccine

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — While many high school students and their families are hitting the beach for spring break, 17-year-old Mona Shores student Lauren Jackson was getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

“I’m feeling pretty good. I feel a lot safer going back to school after spring break,” Jackson said.

She was among the first of the 16-and-older crowd, which became eligible to get the shots Monday, to receive an inoculation at the mass vaccination site at DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids.

“I think going back after spring break there might be a spike,” Jackson said. “But me going back vaccinated, I think it will help the numbers and help be a precedent for anyone else that’s going back, too.”

The number of COVID-19 cases in Michigan continues to rise, with Kent County averaging 203 new cases per day compared to 70 per day in early March. Young people, especially those 20 to 29, are helping drive those numbers.

Public health officials say opening up eligibility to everyone 16 years and older is expected to have a major effect on the effort to bring the virus under control.

“We know people in their teens, 20s, 30s, they don’t always get very sick but they are effective transmitters of the virus,” Kent County Health Department Administrative Health Officer Adam London said. “By getting the vaccine to that population, we’re hoping to interrupt these chains of transmission and bring this to a slow down.”

As of this week, 70% of Kent County residents 65 and older have received the vaccine. The percentage for those in their teens and 20s falls well short of that rate.

“Right now, we’re at about 11% to 13% in that age group. As long as that huge age group of younger people remain so unvaccinated, they’re a very ripe group for infection and transmission,” London said.

But getting an appointment for the shot remains a challenge. Vaccine supply continues to be the primary stumbling block, though the flow of shots into the state is improving. Kent County has received anywhere from 40,000 to 50,000 doses per week since the start of March. That compares to just 15,000 doses per week in January and February.

London said that if you have tried to sign up but haven’t had any luck so far, keep trying.

“It won’t be long. With the volume we’re getting now, it won’t be long before everyone has that opportunity. Please take that opportunity as soon as you get it,” he said.

SCHOOLS PUSH TESTING

Spring break could bring yet another challenge for school leaders as they try to keep kids in class. They’ve been hit hard by the virus recently — with school-related outbreaks now outnumbering outbreaks at nursing homes — despite all of the precautions to keep it from spreading inside the classroom.

“We’re a place of convergence. So we want to do everything we can to make sure that families and student get tested, so that they know they’re safe when they return to school” at the start of next week, Kent Intermediate School District Interim Superintendent Ron Koehler said.

When families get back home, they’ll have new options for testing. The Kent ISD and Kent County Health Department are setting up rapid testing sites that you can register for online. You’ll be able to drive up and get a rapid test that will give you an answer within minutes.

If you’re feeling sick or are concerned about being exposed, PCR tests are also available.

“And (PCR tests are) the more comprehensive… sort of the gold standard of testing. And that will be done and you’ll learn within 48 to 72 hours your status,” Koehler explained.

Until we reach herd immunity, testing to trace the spread of the virus remains an important in the effort to control it. But as the number of cases rises, testing has not kept pace. In Kent County, about 2,000 tests are administered each day. That compares to 4,000 during the fall surge.

“Testing remains a powerful tool in our arsenal to slow this down,” London said.

He continue to echo the sentiments of public health experts cross the country: that while vaccinations are providing hope, we still have a way to go. Wearing masks as well as getting tested and avoiding large crowds if you haven’t been vaccinated remain important.

“Life’s going to get back to normal,” London said. “It will. We just… we’re not quite there yet.”

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