Mercy Health Saint Mary’s on vaccine rollout: ‘It’s a race’

COVID-19 Vaccine

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Mercy Health Saint Mary’s administrators say they are getting COVID-19 vaccines into arms as quickly as possible but noted that the small supply is still keeping the effort limited.

During a Wednesday morning press conference, medical director of infection prevention and control Dr. Andrew Jameson said the Grand Rapids hospital has received 22,640 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Of those, 21,960 have already been administered. That’s 97%, and Jameson said the only reason it’s not 100% is that appointments are still scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

“Basically, whatever vaccine comes in goes into arms that week,” he said.

The hospital has also gotten 1,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine, but it has not yet administered any of that. Jameson said the hospital is prioritizing Pfizer doses at higher-volume vaccination sites because they must be kept colder and have a shorter shelf life than Moderna. Moderna shots will be used at smaller, off-site clinics.

He said the vaccine will be key in fighting back variants that have been popping up and causing increased concern.

“It’s really a race to get vaccines in arms right now,” Jameson said. “You cannot mutate if you are not replicating.”

The hospital is taking a three-pronged approach to vaccinations: Participation in the countywide mass vaccination clinic at DeVos Place Convention Center in downtown Grand Rapids, two other larger vaccination sites — including a drive-thru option at a parking garage across from the hospital and another inside a former Kentwood office building — and smaller community clinics.

Mercy Health Physician Partners regional medical director Dr. Karen Kennedy explained the hospital system is working with community organizations to reach underserved populations, including people of color.

“I will say it’s not always just about the amount of information (about the vaccines) out there. It’s about who is telling these populations the information and whether or not these populations trust it,” she said, explaining that historic and social factors can create a barrier to trust.

Jameson, who spoke to News 8 last week about encouraging aspects to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, said it became apparent to the hospital fairly quickly that there were disparities in access to technology and transportation and that a key way to combat that was to meet people, specifically those in minority groups, where they are.

“These clinics were in response to our relationships with the communities and really feeling like we could deliver vaccination most effectively if we started getting into the communities that we wanted to serve,” he said.

Part of that effort includes an appointment-only pop-up clinic this week. That clinic is serving two specific zip codes and administering about 200 doses to Mercy Health patients. The hospital system hopes to host many similar clinics in the future, especially as doses become more available.

Right now, Mercy’s appointments are still limited, focused on health care providers, patients over 65 with preference to those over 75 and with other risk factors, and teachers and law enforcement officers with the school districts and local and federal agencies that Mercy Health has been tasked by the county with vaccinating.

Senior vice president of operations Kurt MacDonald urged people who want to get vaccinated to be patient, saying the limited number of doses means that appointment availability is still week-to-week. Eventually, once doses are more readily available, you’ll be able to register online to get vaccinated. MacDonald said to keep an eye on for updates.


Overall, the state has changed the way providers are allocated doses. 

Rather than put in requests for doses, which weren’t necessarily fulfilled anyway, the state is now using the Social Vulnerability Index to allocate the shipments that are coming from the federal level.

It uses 15 indicators that identify areas that need additional support in accessing the vaccine, including socioeconomic status, family composition and disability, minority status and language barriers and housing and transportation.

“We are one of the least socially-vulnerable (counties) in the state,” Kristina Wieghmink, Ottawa County Public Information Officer, explained Wednesday. “Only three other counties are less so. So, stating that, we are receiving a smaller number of vaccine doses than we would when based on population alone.”

This week, Wieghmink said the health department received 975 doses of Pfizer and 700 doses of Moderna. The total doses is actually higher because each vile holds six doses rather than five, she explained.

“It may be a little frustrating that here in Ottawa County we’re getting fewer doses of vaccines than some of our neighbors, but this is a more equitable way to allocate a limited resource since it prioritizes those who are most likely to become a COVID-19 case or to have a more severe outcome from infection such as hospitalization and death,” the officer explained.

As of Monday, according to state data, some 2,022,350 doses of the vaccine had been shipped to providers across Michigan and 1,339,129 of them had been administered. That includes 370,271 people fully vaccinated with two shots and 967,907 people having received only their first shot.

The state is aiming to vaccinate about 5.6 million people, with a goal of 50,000 shots administered per day and infrastructure capacity already prepared for up to 80,000. Last week, the state averaged about 39,650 doses administered per day.

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