Spectrum launches clinics to offer COVID-19 vaccinations to more groups

COVID-19 Vaccine

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health says it expects to give the COVID-19 vaccine to 10,000 patients by the end of this week.

It comes as the state moves to the next phase of the vaccine rollout, Phase 1B, which includes front-line essential workers like police officers, first responders, state and federal employees, jail and prison staff, and teachers and child care providers. The state has also opened vaccinations to Group A of Phase 1C, which includes people older than 65.

“We really are rallying all of our troops to try to do this as quickly as we can and I think you’ll see, across the state, things open up and the vaccine being used much, much more rapidly than it was in the first round,” Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, the president of Spectrum Health West Michigan, said during a virtual press conference Monday.

In all, 300,000 to 400,000 people in Spectrum Health’s 16-county region are eligible to get the shots now. The hospital system said is working with community leaders and local health departments to open vaccine sites across West Michigan in the next few weeks.

The first such clinic opened at 6 a.m. Monday on 60th Street in Grand Rapids. Elmouchi said more than 1,800 people were scheduled to get their shots at that clinic Monday alone. At full capacity, he said, it may administer 2,500 shots in a single day.

A photo of 90-year-old Fred Peeples getting a COVID-19 vaccination. (Courtesy Spectrum Health)

Spectrum Health Lakeland near St. Joseph was also launching its clinic Monday and the hospital system intends to open two more clinics in Zeeland and at Pennock in Hastings Wednesday. Mobile clinics could start rolling out as early as next week.

“Demand is astronomical, as you can imagine,” Elmouchi said, going on to say the hospital system simply doesn’t have the capacity to meet all of it right now.

He stressed that the health system is scheduling appointments only for the vaccine doses it has on hand.

Right now, Spectrum has about 20,000 doses on hand and 11,000 people scheduled for an appointment.

As Spectrum gets more doses, it will allow those who are eligible to schedule an appointment. You can learn how to get in line to schedule an appointment online on Spectrum’s website, even if you aren’t already a Spectrum patient.

All of Spectrum’s appointments were booked as of Monday afternoon, but more may become available if there are cancellations. Otherwise, people will have to wait for more vaccines to arrive in our area. 

“I just ask people to have patience because the demand is obviously incredibly high. And we’re doing our best, but not everyone will get a vaccine this week, clearly,” Elmouchi said, going on to say that while Spectrum has been promised another 3,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, it hasn’t yet gotten words on its next Moderna shipment. “We legitimately would love as much vaccine as we can have and we will put those in arms as quickly as we can.”

That echoed the problem local health departments say they are having: They have seen plenty of interest in getting the shot but simply don’t have enough doses in stock.

“I can tell you, at least for the counties that we’re working very closely with, that everybody has the same limitations in terms of vaccine availability,” Elmouchi said. “Our size and the number of counties we cover gives us potentially more vaccine and we obviously have more staff, so we’re hoping we can supplement whatever the local health departments aren’t able to accomplish.”

The Kent County Health Department says it is working on a plan to distribute a mass number of vaccinations. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has called on the federal government to speed up distribution of the vaccine to states. On Monday, she also sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar asking him to let Michigan buy its doses directly from the manufacturers rather than wait on doses purchased by the feds.

“I am writing to request permission for the State of Michigan to make a one-time purchase of up to 100,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine directly from Pfizer to be distributed and administered consistent with” federal guidelines, the letter reads in part. “This direct purchase will fill a two-week lag in supply and ensure that we can continue to ramp up our vaccination efforts across Michigan. It is also consistent with Operation Warp Speed’s commitment to deliver a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine to Americans as quickly as possible.”

Spectrum says it has already vaccinated 20,000 health care workers and first responders. Freese Decker said about 75% of Spectrum employees have already elected to get the vaccine.

“We know it’s not going to be perfect and we continue to work through our processes to make it even better every day,” Spectrum Health President and CEO Tina Freese Decker said.

Metro Health-University of Michigan Health reports all its vaccination appointments are full through Jan. 18, but said more slots should become available soon. People can go online to learn about scheduling a vaccine with Metro.

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