GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — While the numbers show the spread of coronavirus is slowing in West Michigan, the pandemic continues to create a lot of heartbreak and uncertainty.
“Business have struggled. Families have struggled. Kids are missing school and sports. So much of our lives has been damaged by COVID-19 in the past year,” Kent County Health Department Administrative Health Officer Adam London said Monday. “That’s why it is so critically important for us to do big things, everything in our power possible to end this pandemic, to bring our community through this and to get us to the other side of this as quickly as possible.”
One of those big things is the establishment of a mass vaccination center at DeVos Place Convention Center in downtown Grand Rapids. County and hospital administrators running the site provided a tour Monday.
MAKING THE CASE FOR MORE VACCINES IN WEST MICHIGAN
While it opened three weeks ago, it has only been in operation two of those weeks. The clinic, operated by Spectrum and Mercy Health, the Kent County Health Department and Vaccinate West Michigan, was closed last week because of distribution issues. Supply and distribution, which the federal government is in charge of with states helping to facilitate, has been an ongoing frustration for local health officials.
“We learn on Friday, on Friday afternoon of each week, how much vaccine we’re going to receive the following Monday,” London said.
So far, about 13,000 inoculations have been delivered at DeVos, including 7,000 the first week and about 6,000 the second week.
“It is increasing,” London said of daily dosage rates. “And we’ll have second dosing appointments in subsequent weeks. So I expect to see our number of days and the number of hours expand with each successive week.”
Still, the lack of supply will likely keep the DeVos Place clinic from reaching its potential of 20,000 shots per day anytime soon.
Don’t expect the arrival of new vaccine to have an immediate impact on DeVos Place distribution. Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine is expected to be approved soon. But London said that initially, the health department will likely target that vaccine, which is easier to store and distribute, to communities that may not be able to get to DeVos or another clinic.
“Maybe it’s people experiencing homelessness. Maybe it is those independent but homebound seniors in the community that really can’t get out very easy,” London explained.
So what do you tell the person who’s hoping to get back to something that resembles a normal life but has to wait for the vaccine?
“We really want to encourage them to be patient,” London said. “We tell them we’re doing everything in our power to make a case for more vaccine here in West Michigan, and this venue is part of that case.”
The case, according to London, is proving to both Lansing and Washington that if they’re are looking for a place that can efficiently distribute vaccinations at a high rate, Kent County has a proven plan.
“So it’s very important for us not to wait for vaccine to become available in huge quantities but to show in advance of that, we’re ready. Here in West Michigan, we’ll take as much of it as you can send and we’ll move it that same week,” London said.
WHAT GETTING VACCINATED WILL LOOK LIKE
The Monday tour of the clinic included a walk-through of what to expect once you are eligible to get your shot.
When you arrive, you’ll be greeted by a volunteer.
“They’ll be wearing orange vests. That’s the cue that I’m here to help,” said Brian Brasser, chief operating officer and senior vice president with Spectrum Health, one of the partners running the clinic.
When it’s your turn, you’ll be escorted into the registration area.
“These are all self-service,” Brasser said, pointing to a row of touch screens. “And they’re in multiple languages. We have found really good success. They’re quite intuitive. And patients are able to navigate that often independently.”
Help will be on hand if you run into a problem.
After that, patients move on to one of several private shot rooms.
“As we have prepared to expand, this is all replicated in exhibit hall C down the way,” Brasser said.
It takes on average about 10 minutes from the time a patient enters DeVos Place to register and get their shot. Once that happens, it’s off to a large waiting area, where patients are monitored for side effects.
“We ask that the patients stay for 15 minutes. We have the clock set up so that they know what time they arrive and when they are free to leave,” Brasser said.
The tour also was a way to show that DeVos Place is uniquely set up to handle the big numbers. The place is big enough to accommodate everyone and keep them spread out for social distancing.
There has been some controversy over the original $12,000 per day cost to rent the public facility. Last week, SMG, the company that manages DeVos Place for owners, the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau, dropped that fee. The county will now pay only operating costs.
Those leading the vaccination effort say Monday’s tour had nothing to do with the controversy.
“This was exclusively about showing what we have to offer,” Brasser said. “What we really want to make sure is that people feel comfortable when they get here so the more they know about the process and feel that it’s going to be an enhanced experience.”
While appointments are still limited, you can start the registration process to get vaccinated at DeVos Place or elsewhere in West Michigan at VaccinateWestMI.com.