GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Less than a day after the state signaled the next phase of Michigan’s vaccine rollout can begin, local health departments are working to share realistic expectations with their communities.
Beginning Monday, health departments and other partners coordinating registration and clinics will be allowed to begin inoculating people who qualify under Phase 1B — that’s more first responders like police officers and front-line essential workers like teachers — and Group A of 1C, which includes people 65 and older.
While it’s a big step in the rollout process, providers are sharing their current circumstances with vaccine supply. What is currently on hand will first be dedicated to 1A people.
On Wednesday, Kent County’s health officer asked for patience as the next phase begins.
“We know that we have vaccine for all of our clinics next week and we’ve ordered vaccine for the week of the 18th, but we have not received any confirmation on if we will get any or how much we will get,” Ottawa County Deputy Health Officer Marcia Mansaray told News 8 Thursday.
She explained providers send the state an order ahead of time based on projected need. It’s not a guarantee the entire order will be filled.
“That is a limiting factor that requires us to move quickly at a very late state in the game,” she explained. “We don’t want to open that up and say, ‘Oh, we planned for 3,000 slots. We got 500 doses, we need all of those to give people their second dose and we have to cancel everybody’s first dose appointment.’ So we are delaying. We hope to get word by Monday whether we’ll have the vaccine or not.”
In addition to understanding the logistical challenges, Mansaray hopes people who are more comfortable on a computer can help the older generation search for more information and ultimately set up an appointment online.
“If you are someone who has influence with people in that community, we would love your help in reaching out to them and making sure that they know that vaccination is available as soon as it is,” she said, adding the health department is also focused on reaching minority groups disproportionately impacted by the virus. “We need your help to get to them. Whether you’re a faith leader that has that or a business leader or you live in the neighborhood, whatever that is. If you can make sure that they know and they get vaccinated, we would love that.”
The Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Department also noted that the core issue is supply and taking care of Phase 1A first.
“There are organizations within Phase 1A that are still awaiting vaccination that includes over 200 organizations identified with roughly 5,000+ individuals,” a press release stated. “To date, the health department has received 1,950 vaccine doses, and has vaccinated 2,029 individuals. It is important to note that more people have been vaccinated than anticipated due to some vials containing more than the official five doses.”
Calling on the federal government for more supply is a point Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made during Wednesday’s announcement authorizing opening the next group. The state receives its supply from the feds, which then gets distributed to providers like health departments.
“Vaccination is dependent on vaccine supply received from the State. Shipment of vaccine supply has been limited. Vaccine supply will largely be the determining factor for when Kalamazoo County can move into the next phase,” the Kalamazoo County response noted.
Jim Rutherford, the Kalamazoo County health officer, said his department has capacity to vaccinate 1,100 or 1,200 people a day if it had the supply.
“It’s just having the vaccine available,” Rutherford told News 8 Thursday. “If I had a reserve of 10,000 vaccine dose then I could do planning for 10 different clinics but I’m really reliant on what I get on a weekly basis.”
Residents in Muskegon County are also being told to remain patient.
Muskegon County Public Health Officer Kathy Moore said in a press release, “We are excited that more Muskegon County residents are now eligible to receive a vaccination. We will continue to make sure our limited supply of vaccines gets into the arms of those most at risk as quickly as possible.”
The release noted vaccine quantities are still limited and are being distributed as quickly as possible.
“It’s fair to say that we were caught off guard,” Ionia County Health Officer Ken Bowen said of the state’s authorization after sending a press release out Thursday morning.
He noted everyone is doing the best they can, but there simply isn’t enough doses available to the health department to vaccinate those eligible under the next group.
“Yesterday the Governor announced that Michigan will be moving to Phase 1B of COVID-19 vaccination starting next week. This will include individuals over 65,” the release read in part. “Unfortunately, ICHD does not have enough vaccine to cover all of this large group at this time. We currently have a small amount of vaccine that is already spoken for in planned clinics. We do not expect more vaccine until close to the end of January. We will do multiple large announcements when we are ready to start vaccinating the over-65 group. We also intend to set-up an online pre-registration process for the over-65 group.”
The Mid-Michigan Health Department, which covers Montcalm, Clinton and Gratiot counties is sharing a similar message on its website:
“Our clinics are currently full, but be sure to check back often. Additional clinics will be scheduled when we receive more vaccine, and there are often cancellations,” the note, bolded and in red, states on the department’s page. “We do ask that you not call our office to let us know that our clinics are full, or to ask how to schedule a vaccination as our phone line is not able to handle the call volume. We know this situation is not ideal, but we have limited vaccine and can not schedule any more clinics until we receive another shipment.”
Anne Barna, a spokesperson for the Barry-Eaton District Health Department, says the agency is planning to have the National Guard will assist with large-scale vaccination clinic once vaccine supply allows. It is requiring people to make an appointment through the department’s website.
“Starting on Monday, we’ll be able to, if we have an appointment available, those eligible folks in those additional groups may be able to schedule an appointment,” Barna said.
The department says it can be challenging to plan vaccination clinics when it only receives a few days’ notice of when vaccines are going to arrive.
“We always knew that we wouldn’t necessarily be completely finished vaccinating one phase before the next one started and that’s essentially what’s happening here when we know there’s health care providers that still are on our schedule,” Barna said.
In a Thursday statement, the state said it was “committed to accelerating vaccine delivery.” It said it was in frequent contact with local health departments and told them about the expansion in its weekly call:
“We are committed to accelerating vaccine delivery as we work to reach our goal of vaccinating 70% of Michiganders over age 16 as quickly as possible. That’s why we are moving to make vaccine available to any Michigander over age 65; it’s why we are collaborating with the federal pharmacy program to accelerate delivery and working to address vaccine hesitancy in nursing homes; and it’s why we are accelerating distribution with the National Guard. We are also accelerating vaccinations for our K-12 and day care staff.
“The Division of Local Health Services at MDHHS maintain regular weekly communications with the Health Officers in each of the Local Health Departments. The plan to expand vaccine opportunities was discussed on a weekly call. Our vaccination campaign is moving rapidly in an effort to vaccinate the populations identified in the Michigan COVID-19 Vaccination Interim Prioritization Guidance.
“We would like to have more vaccine available to be able to vaccinate as many Michiganders as possible. While it is less than the amount we need to be able to vaccinate our population as rapidly as we want, the federal government does seem to be sending us the amount that they tell us the preceding week they will be sending.”