GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — While most health experts agree that we still have a long road of COVID-19 safety precautions ahead of us, there is a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of two vaccines that are expected to receive emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration this week.
“It’s been a long, dark year for all of us. It feels like we’ve been on defense for a long time,” said Kent County Health Department Administrative Health Officer Dr. Adam London. “To finally be talking about a vaccine, the opportunity to go on offense, and to get into the game and get past this phase of the pandemic is really energizing for a lot of us.”
London took part in a virtual Vaccination Town Hall meeting hosted by the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce Tuesday.
London says Michigan is expected to get anywhere from 84,000 to as many as 200,000 doses early on.
“We don’t know exactly how many of those doses are going to be sent to Kent County or West Michigan,” London told the group.
Health care workers and first responders will be among the first to get the vaccine.
“And we know that CVS and Walgreens are going to be receiving some because they’re under contract to provide the vaccine to residents and caregivers at long-term care and nursing homes,” according to London.
That first phase could take a couple of months.
Next in line are other essential workers.
“We’re talking about teachers, school staff, child care workers, people in the food supply chain, perhaps critical utility workers,” London said.
The vaccination should be available to the general public by March or April.
While supplies of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will be limited, more vaccines are on the way.
Those vaccines don’t require deep freeze storage and other handling challenges.
“Many of these products can be handled in ways similar to our more standard vaccines. Many more providers in the community are equipped to do that sort of vaccine handling and delivery,” London said.
Beyond the logistics of sticking a needle in someone’s arm, there’s the challenge of messaging. The West Michigan COVID-19 Vaccination Coalition, made up of health care leaders, educators and others, is part of that effort.
They’re working on standardized information that will likely be made available through the Kent County Health Department’s website in the coming weeks.
“So again, people understand exactly what they’re supposed to do and when they’re supposed to do it,” said Keith Hustak, vice president of Advanced Practice Provider Services and Operations for Spectrum Health and a coalition member.
“Really, it still comes down to having patience and trusting us that we’re going to get the information to you at the right time and the right place,” Hustak said.
And part of that messaging will deal with some of the misinformation that comes with vaccines.
“We need to make sure we have spokespeople from across the spectrum of life in West Michigan and elsewhere repeating this message,” London said. “… that vaccines are much safer than the alternative.”