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Officials: Mass vaccination by spring or summer

Fewest daily infections since Nov. 5 reported

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Ossineke resident Rick Sampier wears a mask as he exits the Family Dollar on Monday in Ossineke.

ALPENA — MidMichigan Health officials say they could begin administering the COVID-19 vaccine to health care workers as soon as Dec. 14 if a vaccine is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration next week.

But it could be summer before the vaccine is widely administered to the general public, said Lydia Watson, senior vice president and chief medical officer at MidMichigan Health, the Midland-based health care network that owns the Alpena hospital.

Vaccine preparations are happening nationwide as the coronavirus spreads apparently unabated.

Public health officials today reported eight more Northeast Michigan residents infected with COVID-19, the fewest number of daily infections since Nov. 5, but reported another Alcona County resident had died after being infected.

As of today, 1,043 Northeast Michiganders were actively infected, meaning they’d been confirmed infected with COVID-19 but have not recovered or died, and could infect others. More than 900 Northeast Michiganders have been infected in the last month, compared to about 300 in the previous six months combined.

The FDA had not approved a vaccine for COVID-19 as of today, but an FDA committee is scheduled to meet on Dec. 10 to discuss an emergency use authorization request submitted by Pfizer. Moderna has also requested emergency use authorization, and AstraZeneca, among others, have indicated they soon will.

Flip through the interactive timeline below to see how the coronavirus spread through Northeast Michigan. Story continues below the timeline.

Watson said how soon the public will be able to get the vaccine will depend on whether they have factors that puts them at risk.

“If you’re a patient over 65 and you’ve got multiple medical problems, you’ll get it sooner than someone who is young and otherwise healthy, without diabetes, heart disease, chronic lung illnesses,” she said.

Watson said everybody who wants a vaccine will likely be able to get it by next summer, if not sooner. If other drug companies’ vaccines receive emergency use authorization from the FDA, more vaccines would be available sooner, she said.

Numerous logistical hurdles have to be overcome to vaccinate the community. The first vaccine to request FDA approval, for example, must be stored at extremely cold temperatures, and public health officials have to devise a way to vaccinate residents with as little contact as possible between them and the health care workers administering the vaccine, all while winter weather is still a very real possibility into the early spring months in Northeast Michigan.

Jennifer Curl, public health director at District Health Department No. 4 — which serves Alpena, Presque Isle, and Montmorency counties — said in an email to The News that officials have identified several sites for drive-thru mass vaccinations and will continue to update plans as they receive more information from the state.

“Our public health department has strong immunization programming policies and our nurses have the expertise to meet the upcoming needs of the public,” she said in the email.

The interactive graphic below shows active infections in Northeast Michigan over time. Story continues below graphic.

It wasn’t immediately clear where those drive-thru sites might be. Curl could not be reached for follow-up questions and Denise Bryan, the chief executive at the Health Department, could not be reached for comment today.

Curl said in the email to The News that Health Department officials do not yet know how many vaccines the department will receive. She said they are also waiting for information from the state as to how those vaccines will be distributed.

HEALTH CARE WORKERS FIRST

MidMichigan Health officials expect to receive 975 doses for the seven-hospital network in their first shipment, Watson said.

Watson said the hospital will use a “phased approach” based on federal guidelines to determine in which order hospital employees receive the vaccine.

Watson said between 400 and 500 employees work in MidMichigan Health’s intensive care units and emergency departments. From there, hospital officials will go down their priority list to determine which groups of employees will receive the vaccine next.

Watson said MidMichigan Health employs about 7,000 people, and the hospitals will not be able to vaccinate all of them in the first wave.

In addition to frontline health care workers, Watson said long-term care patients are included in the high-risk category. She said MidMichigan Health will partner with county health departments, who will receive their own shipments of the vaccine, to get those workers and patients vaccinated. Sixty-three nursing home residents and 66 nursing home employees had been infected in Northeast Michigan as of Tuesday, according to state data.

District Health Department No. 4 Medical Director Josh Meyerson said in an email to The News that the department will be involved in coordinating immunization of other health care workers, emergency medical services workers, first responders, and other priority groups in the region. He said some pharmacies have been contracted to vaccinate long-term care residents.

“As supply increases in the ensuing months other priority groups, such as those over 65 years and those with high risk factors will be offered the vaccine and providers who will be able to enroll to participate in the COVID Vaccine Program,” he said.

Meyerson could not be reached for follow-up questions.

After the first shipment of the vaccine is received, Watson said, officials expect to receive additional shipments on a weekly basis.

LOGISTICAL PROBLEMS

Watson said MidMichigan Health officials purchased two special freezers with the ability to keep Pfizer’s vaccine frozen at 94 degrees below zero, and the vaccine would be stored in the Midland hospital. The freezers can hold up to 60,000 doses, she said.

The two freezers in Midland will hold the vaccine to be distributed throughout MidMichigan Health’s system. Watson said the vaccine will be transported to MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena when vaccination clinics are scheduled.

“We will know how many appointments are scheduled for a vaccination clinic on any given day,” she said. “Then we’ll send that exact number up with our employees that will be administering the vaccinations that day. Or, if the vaccinators are in Alpena already, we’ll just have one of our couriers pick the doses up.”

The interactive chart below shows cumulative infections, recoveries and deaths in Northeast Michigan over time. Story continues below graphic.

It was not immediately clear how many of MidMichigan Health’s initial 975 vaccines would be routed to the Alpena Hospital.

Curl said Health Department officials plan to store the vaccine according to guidelines from the manufacturer and state health department. However, she said the local Health Department does not have ultra-cold freezers.

Pfizer’s vaccine will be administered in two doses, with the second dose 21 days after the first.

Watson said it’s important to recognize the vaccine does have some side effects, including about 80% of those who receive the vaccine experiencing things like a low-grade fever, body aches, and fatigue that can last about 24 hours. She said soreness at the injection site and an allergic reaction could also occur.

Despite those side effects, Watson said health care providers strongly recommend that everyone get the vaccine.

But overcoming opposition to vaccines is another logistical hurdle.

While the coronavirus vaccine is not meant for children, the share of parents who obtain waivers from student vaccination requirements shows concern over vaccination is higher in Northeast Michigan than elsewhere.

While about 4% of kindergartners statewide were waived from vaccination requirements in 2019, 6% of kindergartners across Alpena, Presque Isle, Montmorency, and Alcona counties were waived, almost entirely for religious or philosophical reasons, according to state data. At some schools, the rate was even higher — nearly 17% in Atlanta Community Schools, for example.

Curl said the Health Department would notify residents about vaccine arrivals and allocations in emails and text messages, through social media, on billboards, and on radio and television.

VIRUS DATA

Among the newly infected Northeast Michiganders reported today were one Alpena County resident, one Presque Isle County resident, two Montmorency County residents, and four Alcona County residents.

Since the pandemic hit Michigan in mid-March, 1,291 Northeast Michiganders have been infected, according to local public health agencies — 984 of them in November. Since March, 221 Northeast Michiganders have recovered and 27 have died.

As of today, 137 people were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection across the state-designated, 18-county health care region that includes Alpena, Presque Isle, and Montmorency counties, according to state data.

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