Kent Co. heath officials prepare for mass vaccinations


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The word has come down from Washington to the states: Get your plans in place to begin mass vaccinations against coronovirus as early as November.

“I’m not really surprised. All of the communications that we’ve been having with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and from the state is that we could see a vaccine in early winter,” said Dr. Karla Black, the Kent County Health Department’s public health program supervisor.

Black is responsible for emergency preparedness for the county. It will be her job to make sure the vaccine is available to Kent County residents who want it.

There are 650,000 residents in Kent County alone. Even if only half get the shot, it will be a major undertaking.

How quickly those vaccinations are accomplished will depends on how much of the vaccine the county receives.

“There could be a lot of vaccine coming to Kent all at once. Or maybe it might be just kind of trickling in, or somewhere in between,” Black said. “And so really, our planning is focusing on all of those scenarios.”

The vaccine will likely be distributed to health care workers, first responders and those who have medical conditions that would make them more susceptible to COVID-19, followed by the general public.

For years, the county’s had plans for mass vaccinations in place.

But this virus is different.

“We’re really going to have to figure out how to space people out a little bit more, so we’ll look at maybe some of our different facilities and different options to get the vaccine in to people,” Black said.

And that’s where the counties COVID-19 testing efforts come in to play.

Several sites, both public and private, have been set up around the county for mass testing.

“We’ve been working with a number of our community partners that have graciously allowed us to work with them to get tests done,” Black said. “So, in the same model, we can actually use these places, potentially, as mass vaccination sites.”

The other challenge is helping people decide if vaccination is the best way to go.

A national poll conducted in late June suggests only about half of the country would get the vaccine.

Public health officials have been working to provide information for people to make that decision.

“Our goal is really to be a trusted resource. To talk to people and try to allay fears and give the best scientific information that we have in a way that people understand it,” Black said. “So that they can feel comfortable in getting the vaccine.”

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says it is also preparing to safely distribute the vaccine.

“Michigan has been making preparations for the speedy and safe distribution of a proven COVID-19 vaccine for several months. We are proud to be home to Pfizer, one of the largest pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities in the world, which has been on the leading edge of vaccine research during this crisis. As we wait and prepare for an effective vaccine, it is vitally important that Michiganders continue to wear a mask, social distance, and take every precaution to keep themselves and their families safe,” MDHHS spokesperson Lynn Sutfin said.

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