KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Kalamazoo County says that in addition to the groups the state is now allowing to get the COVID-19 vaccine, it is opening up eligibility to essential workers including grocery store and restaurant workers.

Under the Kalamazoo County Health & Community Services Department’s new plan, also eligible are: people age 50 and older, caregivers of children who have special health care needs, food processing and seasonal farm workers, local government workers, employees at laboratories not associated with hospitals and those who work at veterinary clinics.

Health Officer Jim Rutherford said that while the state has not opened up eligibility to the additional essential workers, each county has discretion based on where its vaccine rollout stands.

“I find that trying to compare a 50-plus-year-old to an essential worker, it’s really very comparable particularly given the fact that many of these, all of these, essential workers don’t have the luxury of staying at home and doing remote work, so we just don’t want to forget this group,” Rutherford said. 

Theo & Stacy’s restaurant in Kalamazoo was one of the first to sign up to get its workers vaccinated, preregistering with the health department several months ago. Co-owner Betty Peristeridis said all of her 21 employees would get their first shots by the end of the day Tuesday. The shot is voluntary, but she was pleased they all wanted to sign up. 

“Just to be able to have that extra layer of protection for our staff is just huge. We’re just so happy,” Peristeridis said.  

Server Kristen Bowers said getting her vaccine will provide more peace of mind as restaurants expand capacity. 

“I think it just makes us more safe not only for us, for our other co-workers, (but also) for our customers and everyone around us,” Bowers said. 

Grocery store workers at Midtown Fresh in Kalamazoo are also awaiting vaccinations. Store Director Paul Petros said his employees have been very interested after a year of concerns about becoming infected.

“I really hope everybody does want it because it’s a great opportunity. It’s a gift, so we definitely have got to take advantage of it,” Petros said. 

Workers should get appointments through their employer. Those 50 and older can go online to the health department’s website to schedule an appointment. Those without internet access can call 269.343.5200. New appointments for a given week will be added to the website each Monday and will be set on a first-come, first-served basis. Caregivers of children with special needs can also go to the county website to get on an appointment waitlist. They will then be informed when it’s their turn.

The health department noted that appointments will be made as vaccine supply allows. While Michigan has been getting and administering more doses each week, appointments are still limited and Kalamazoo County says it is still prioritizing those age 65 and up. People are asked to be patient.

The Kalamazoo County health department vaccinated a total of 3,000 people at the Kalamazoo Expo Center on Tuesday. The site could scale up to 5,000 shots a day if supply allowed.