Communication, state allotments an issue in vaccine rollout

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Presque Isle County Commissioner Lee Gapczynski, left, and Presque Isle County Emergency Manager Sarah Melching on Tuesday talk about problems county officials and their constituents have had reaching District Health Department No. 4 officials.

ALPENA — District Health Department No. 4 Health Officer Denise Bryan told her board on Tuesday she has advocated strongly on behalf of Northeast Michiganders so the region can receive its share of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Bryan told the county commissioners from Alpena, Montmorency, Presque Isle, and Cheboygan counties that make up her board about many challenges she has encountered trying to secure vaccines from the state and setting up mass vaccination clinics for the public.

Among those challenges: Health Department officials learned after they tried ordering new shipments of the Pfizer vaccine they would not receive any more of it. She said they learned Pfizer vaccines would be shipped to hospitals and long-term care facilities, and that the Health Department would instead receive the Moderna vaccine.

She said the Health Department requested 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, but was shipped 1,100 doses. Bryan, who is also health officer for District Health Department No. 2, said DHD No. 2 received 800 doses of the Moderna vaccine and the Health Department of Northwest Michigan received 800 doses of that vaccine.

When Bryan asked state officials about the formula they used to allocate the vaccine, so she could plan for mass vaccination clinics, she was told the formula was population-based. She said the formula would not serve Northeast Michigan well.

Bryan said she told state officials age should be a factor in their formula, since Northeast Michigan has an aged community.

The vaccine is currently available to those 65 and older, along with first responders, health care workers, and others.

“I want you to know I felt this was a competition amongst health departments to get vaccines, and I put all my energy in getting vaccines,” she said.

State officials, meanwhile, have accused the federal government of being too slow in allocating doses to them and have instead asked to be allowed to purchase the vaccine directly from manufacturers.

Bryan said the Health Department receives weekly allotments from the state and local officials are told on Fridays how many vaccines it will receive on Mondays.

Bryan said the Health Department was able to administer 1,083 doses of the vaccine on Monday at clinics in Alpena and Cheboygan. She said the Health Department had used all of the vaccine from previous shipments as of Tuesday, and expects the 1,100 doses from the Moderna vaccine to be administered by Saturday.

Bryan said scheduling appointments is the slowest part of the process and the Health Department is able to schedule 25 appointments per hour. However, she said, officials are able to vaccinate 100 people per hour during clinics.

While Health Department officials have scheduled vaccine appointments and run vaccines clinics, Presque Isle County Emergency Manager Sarah Melching told the board she was having problems communicating with Health Department officials.

When officials were originally told Health Department strike teams would go out into the community to vaccinate people, Melching said, she collected 138 registrations in her county, only to be told residents instead had to register with the Health Department to schedule appointments.

“I’m not sure what the solution is, but, if I’m going to help the Health Department navigate through this in our county, it would be really nice to have the facts and be able to communicate with the District Health Department on the actual plans,” she said.

Deputy Health Officer Judy Greer told Melching to send her the registrations, so they could be added to the existing registrations and Health Department staff could schedule appointments.

Greer said the Health Department currently has 4,300 registrations from which they are scheduling appointments.

Bryan said Health Department employees are trying to arrange assistance to help seniors in the area register for the vaccine if they cannot go online.

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


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