Local officials work to get vaccines out amid slow distribution

COVID-19 Vaccine

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Local health officials continue to work on how to efficiently vaccinate those who want the COVID-19 vaccine without having direct control over distribution.

And even if the current supply increases as expected, other limiting factors continue to impact the current rollout pace.

Tuesday afternoon, an Operation Warp Speed briefing announced vaccines will no longer be held back at the federal level specifically for individuals’ second doses. The change comes after Michigan and several other states asked the feds to free up more supply.

Additionally, states are now told to prioritize people 65 and older and anyone with a documented comorbidity that puts them at higher risk.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar also noted support for pharmacies to get involved in the public rollout. Currently, national chains are helping vaccinate long-term care facility residents.

That said, health departments and hospital systems in West Michigan continue to urge understanding as they’re tasked with getting shots in arms, while also answering questions they don’t have answers to.

“I’m just so sorry because we’re getting hounded with requests for information from the public right now, there just isn’t any,” Mid-Michigan District Health Department Health Officer Marcus Cheatham told News 8 Tuesday. “And we don’t know when the next clinics are going to be scheduled, so we’re asking everybody to please be patient.”

Cheatham’s department covers Montcalm, Gratiot and Clinton counties.

For context, Cheatham shared about 8,000 doses came into their jurisdiction in the last shipment. Of that, 1,600 were designated specifically for the health department.

“We have 50,000 people in groups 1A and 1B that we need to vaccinate,” he explained. “So right now, essentially, people can’t get vaccinated. There just isn’t enough.”

In Kent County, an estimated 92,000 people are eligible under the 65 and over group.

In addition to not having enough supply, the manpower to administer doses remains another large component in the process.

The National Guard has been authorized to help but relies on the allocation within a given jurisdiction where the agency is helping.

“We have to do, across our jurisdiction, 4,000 people a day for four months in order to get everybody (in 1A and 1B),” Cheatham added. “So yes, we would need to have mass clinics and right now, the National Guard does not have vaccines of their own. So, we’re doing a couple of small clinics with them, but we have to give them the vaccine from our tiny supply.”

As Marcia Mansaray, deputy health officer for Ottawa County Department of Public Health pointed out last week, it’s not as simple as finding people capable of giving someone a shot.

“If it’s not handled appropriately — being stored appropriately, brought to room temperature appropriately, reconstituted at the right dilutions appropriately — it won’t be effective,” Mansaray said. “So, if anything is done wrong along that step then we’ve wasted liquid gold, basically.”

During Tuesday’s briefing, Azar noted officials at the federal level are ready to assist states with maximizing efficiency.

Current Operation Warp Speed efforts are soon to meet a new administration that takes over next week, adding in yet another layer that very well could impact the current process.

“We’re going to execute the play the coach calls,” Cheatham said.

In addition to signing up for emails directly from your hospital system, officials continue to recommend visiting VaccinateWestMI.com for the latest information.

It’s not yet clear when the larger shipments may make it to West Michigan.

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