Genesee County, MI— Mass vaccinations began last month but health entities across the nation, including Genesee County, have been unable to keep up with demand.
In Genesee County, nearly 40,000 people who have signed up for a vaccine are still waiting for their shot.
“Supply is the issue,” Medical Health Officer of the Genesee County Health Department Pamela Hackert said. “The number of vaccines that have been administered [reflects] the number of vaccines that we’ve been given.”
Health entities request doses from the state each week and the state decides how to distribute the vaccines to local health departments, hospitals and pharmacy partners.
The GCHD finds out on Wednesdays how many vaccines they will receive for the following week and immunizations begin on Tuesdays once they receive the doses.
Counties are operating with limited information from the state about vaccine distribution, Linda Vail, health officer for Ingham County Health Department, said.
“The logistical challenges of always needing to be guessing where you are with vaccines in terms of scheduling appointments and those sorts of things have been very challenging,” Vail said.
A look at Michigan’s COVID-19 vaccine dashboard shows how few doses Michigan has been able to dole out between its 83 counties.
“For the past couple of weeks, we’ve only gotten 60,000 new Pfizer vaccines for the entire state of Michigan,” Ruthanne Sudderth said, senior vice president of public affairs and communications for the Michigan Health & Hospital Association.
Since Dec. 14, Genesee County has received a total of 46,550 vaccines between its hospitals, federally qualified health centers and the GCHD. Doses administered total 31,547.
The GCHD has vaccinated approximately 4,000 individuals who are considered 1A or 1B priority and estimate an additional 3,720 residents were vaccinated between Jan. 25- Jan. 30.
Vaccination prioritization is based on those who are most at-risk for getting the virus, including frontline healthcare workers, long-term care residents and staff, seniors over the age of 75, and school and childcare staff.
“If you think of it as the continuum in terms of how people across the country going to be vaccinated, we want to start on each end where, on one end you have the most vulnerable; if they get sick, they have the highest mortality. And on the other end are the people who are most exposed even if they are wearing PPE,” Hackert said.
Though the state moved into phase 1B of the vaccination plan on Jan. 15, 1A individuals are still the priority.
“We are trying to, [during] these first couple weeks, prioritize our seniors who are 80 and up. [They] only account for 5% of COVID infections yet account for 39% of the mortality,” Hackert said.
Phase 1B individuals represent 40% of Genesee County’s population, around 150,000-175,000 people, and will likely take the longest to vaccinate.
“We’re getting 2,000-3,000 vaccines per week…Phase 1B is going to last for months because of vaccine supply,” Hackert said.
Vaccine Pre-Registration Process
Residents may pre-register for the vaccine on Genesee County’s website via a Survey Monkey form.
The pre-registration list has already exceeded 30,000 people, Genesee County officials said.
Hackert said it’s important to note that pre-registration is not a first-come-first-serve basis. It’s like entering a pool rather than a line.
“We are allowing everyone to sign up to the Survey Monkey, which is great because now that we have that in place we can do further prioritization within that large group. So, it’s not just the first person to push the button gets the appointment,” Hackert said.
Instead, the team combs through the list to identify high-risk individuals, those who live in high-density zip codes and minorities.
“With our Survey Money we are able to get more information about who it is of those 30,000 people who are most at risk or most exposed, and we can get the vaccine in the arms of the people who need it the most right now,” Hackert said.
Health officials understand online registration isn’t an “ideal way” to reach Genesee County’s most vulnerable populations, but they are working with Michigan State University’s Division of Public Health to find alternative methods, Hackert said.
In the meantime, GCHD has plans for specialized drive-thru clinics for the deaf, teachers and the Latinx community.
For homebound seniors, GCHD is planning to partnerships with local federally qualified health centers with the transportation resources to take seniors to appointments. Seniors can also pre-register at local senior centers.
Getting Vaccinated at Meijer, McLaren, or Other Federally Qualified Health Centers
On Jan. 13, the State of Michigan announced a partnership with Meijer Pharmacies to help administer COVID-19 vaccines.
Individuals can register on Meijer’s vaccine clinic portal but, like the GCHD, doing so doesn’t hold a spot in line.
“They are going to be offering vaccines to priority populations in different locations in Michigan,” Hackert said, adding that appointments will be required.
Last week, the GCHD posted an announcement on their Facebook page that Meijer had scheduled invalid appointments at the health department and Hamilton Clinic. Meijer Spokesperson Frank Guglielmi said the information was incorrect.
GCHD reached out to Meijer and confirmed that Meijer had not scheduled invalid appointments but that some patients mistakenly believed they had appointments with the GCHD.
Meijer and GCHD operate separately, Hackert said. Those who register with Meijer will be contacted by Meijer to schedule their appointments.
In addition, McLaren Health Care is inviting existing patients who are 65 and older to register for vaccine. They have received an overwhelming response, according to an announcement posted on their website so it is likely patients will experience delays. Seniors who qualify can register here.
Walgreens is also a federal partner in the long-term care pharmacy program.
“They are vaccinating in some of our long-term care facilities. And that was a program that had initial registration back in November, but they are getting a separate supply of vaccine for that. In addition, some of the Walgreens are also partnering with some of our health care hospital systems and doing some of their healthcare workers through the hospital allocations. But that is something that was worked out between the hospital and Walgreens,” Hackert said.
Vaccinating School Staff in Genesee County
Ensuring school staff is vaccinated has become a growing concern since Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a statewide goal for districts to offer an in-person learning option by Mar. 1.
“It’s clear that children learn best when they are able to do in-school learning, but we also have to keep our teachers safe,” Hackert said.
The Flint Schools Board of Education adopted a hybrid, in-person learning plan which will begin by Feb. 22. Those who want to return to school can, while others can continue remote instruction.
According to a district survey, 41.1% of Flint families wish to return to school while 58.9% will opt to stay at home.
Hackert said GCHD is working with superintendents from all districts in the county to establish a vaccination plan. There are approximately 5,500-6,000 school teachers in Genesee County.
Vaccines won’t be doled out on a district-by-district basis, she said. Instead, the GCHD will prioritize school staff who are considered 1A or 1B individuals and those who work with special needs students.
“We’ve been trying to prioritize teachers who are working with special needs children, who may not be able to keep their mask on as much as they should, and also teachers who are 50 and up right now… We have only so many vaccines for the whole county that were responsible for.”
A district’s total student population may also be a deciding factor when choosing which school staff to prioritize.
Flint Schools has the largest number of full-time special education students than any district in the county but a comparatively smaller total student population.
“This planning is being done completely in cooperation and in conjunction with the superintendents,” Hackert said.
What to Expect at Your Vaccine Appointment
Pre-registering with the GCHD is not the same as getting an appointment, Hackert said.
Individuals will know they have an appointment once they receive a call from the health department.
“We do ask people to answer your phones right now, even if you don’t recognize the number,” Hackert said. As of now, the GCHD does not have a recognizable caller ID but it is something they are working towards.
If the call is missed, Hackert said the individual will not go back into the 40,000-person pool but will be rescheduled at the next available appointment opening.
At present, there are two COVID-19 vaccinations that are cleared by the Food and Drug Administration: Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
The supply of each vaccine changes from week to week and GCHD doesn’t know what they will receive. Because of this, individuals will not be able to choose which shot they get.
“They’re both very similar. They both have the same mode of action, the messenger RNA,” Hackert said.
Both vaccines require two doses to be most effective. When the GCHD schedules a second appointment, individuals will receive the same vaccine initially administered.
Appointments last approximately 15 minutes but patients will be asked to stay an additional 15-30 minutes to be monitored by a health professional for any adverse reactions.
Hackert said thus far in Genesee County, only one person has had a mild anaphylactic reaction. She was treated with epinephrine and 911 was called to take her to the hospital.
Normal side effects of the vaccine include:
- Pain and swelling in the arm the shot was administered
More Vaccines to Come
In his first week of office, President Joe Biden adopted a new National Strategy that includes actions for increasing COVID-19 vaccine production and prioritizing the vaccination of vulnerable and minority populations.
The plan also encourages states to utilize a vaccine distribution method based on a county’s population while applying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social vulnerability index.
Biden announced last week plans to purchase 200 million more vaccines in the coming month and distribute 10 million vaccines each week.
Despite this, Hackert said its “too early” to tell what kind of increase Genesee County might see under the new plan.
Health Department employees as well as community volunteers have been working overtime to get Genesee County vaccinated.
“It’s a pandemic, this is what I’m trained for. This is what I do. So, I think that kind of feeling is exactly what’s happening through the health department. It’s a feeling of we’re able to do what we have all been trained to do. And it’s a feeling of excitement, and actually a great deal of satisfaction as we help meet the needs of the community,” Hackert said.
For more answers to commonly asked questions about the vaccine, visit GCHD’s COVID-19 information page.