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Alpena-area health officials trying to get supplies, equipment for mass coronavirus vaccinations

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Lisa Barnes, employee health and wellness nurse at MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena, gives a flu shot to pharmacist Keith Nowak.

ALPENA — Health care providers in Northeast Michigan are preparing for the arrival of coronavirus vaccines.

MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena President Chuck Sherwin said the health system’s administrators are trying to stay ahead of the game, purchasing refrigerators, for example, because some of the vaccines in the works require cold storage.

Sherwin said the hospital already has refrigerators able to reach 70 degrees below zero — a requirement of one of the vaccines currently being tested — but some of those refrigerators sometimes can’t be used for other purposes.

A refrigerator that holds tissue, for example, could not also hold the vaccine, because of cross contamination concerns.

“As we’re trying to get refrigerators, guess what’s happening to every other hospital in the nation?” Sherwin said. “They’re all trying to get refrigerators as well.”

Several vaccines have reached large-scale final tests in the U.S. Most experts think a vaccine is likely to become widely available by mid-2021, according to the BBC.

Sherwin said officials also worry whether there will be enough needles and syringes to give mass vaccines to the public.

“We already know nationally that we’re starting to see some places that are having difficulty getting some of the supplies that are necessary to administer vaccines,” he said.

When the pandemic first started, personal protective equipment was in short supply and difficult to get. Sherwin said government officials have identified problems in obtaining supplies early.

Josh Meyerson, medical director with District Health Department No. 4, said he anticipates the delivery of the vaccine will be managed similarly to how the H1N1 flu vaccine was managed in 2009. He said supplies necessary to provide that vaccine were allocated through the national stockpile.

Meyerson said the health department has not received any direction from government officials to purchase additional infrastructure to accommodate the vaccine.

Meyerson said the vaccine will be administered similar to the flu vaccine, with doctors offices, pharmacists, and other community partners helping the Health Department vaccinate the community.

“We will certainly be very involved,” he said. “A lot of the inventory will be coming through us, but, at the end of the day, it’s gonna require lots of people in a coordinated way to provide this vaccine.”

Sherwin said that, because the federal government will dispense the vaccine, federal officials will determine who gets the vaccine and when.

Sherwin expects metropolitan areas, with significantly higher rates of coronavirus infection, to receive the vaccine before more rural areas like Alpena.

“People will need to realize it will not come out all at once,” Meyerson said. “It’s going to be, ‘Here’s your first allotment,’ and it’s not going to be a whole lot.”

Meyerson said that, when the Health Department receives an allotment, the first doses will likely go to health care workers, paramedics, firefighters, and police. However, he said the objective of the vaccine is that anybody who wants it will be able to get it.

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.

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