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Alpena a leader in vaccine rollout

County in top 5 statewide, but still a long way to go

News Photo by Crystal Nelson MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena pulmonologist Daniel Maxwell receives his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday in the hospital’s auditorium.

ALPENA — The coronavirus vaccine rollout in Northeast Michigan has gone well, despite national concerns the vaccine isn’t being administered quick enough.

As of today, 1,373 vaccine doses had been administered to Northeast Michigan residents, including 912 in Alpena County, 214 in Presque Isle County, 146 in Alcona County, and 101 people in Montmorency County, according to state data.

On a per-capita basis, Alpena County — home to MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena, which administered the region’s first dose to one of its surgeons — ranks fifth for doses given out of Michigan’s 83 counties plus Detroit, which is counted separately in state data.

Still, there’s a long way to go to defeat the coronavirus.

Chuck Sherwin, the Alpena hospital president, said national experts say about 70% to 75% of residents have to be vaccinated for a community to reach what’s known as herd immunity.

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Several MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena employees wait the suggested 15 minutes to make sure they don't have a reaction after receiving the second dose of the vaccine on Thursday in the hospital’s auditorium.

But state data shows health officials have administered enough doses to fully vaccinate only about 2% of the adult population in Alpena County. It takes two doses of the vaccine for it to be most effective.

Other Northeast Michigan counties are much further behind. Presque Isle County ranks 35th among Michigan counties for doses given, Alcona County ranks 51st, and Montmorency County ranks 68th.

Enough doses had been given by today to fully vaccinate a little over 1% of Presque Isle County’s adults, and less than 1% in Alcona and Montmorency counties.

Lake County and Detroit had administered the fewest doses per capita, while Grand Traverse County had the highest vaccination rate in the state.

Sherwin said the hospital is heading toward the next phases of vaccine rollout, while other areas of the U.S. haven’t started to give the vaccine, yet, or are still arguing about which workers are the most essential.

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

“Our goal is to get shots in arms,” Richard Bates, a physician and regional vice president of medical affairs at the Alpena hospital, said. “We want to not waste any vaccine … if, at the end of the day, we had a shot or two left, we went and found someone within the hospital who was willing to get the vaccine and we got it to them.”

The currently approved vaccines have to be stored at super-cold temperatures and must be quickly administered once they’re removed from refrigeration.

Bates, who oversees the Alpena hopital’s vaccination clinic, said the hospital has nearly vaccinated 70% of its staff. Hospital employees also began administering second doses of the vaccine this week.

Bates said the hospital continues to collaborate with local health departments to reach as many health care workers as possible.

Today, District Health Department No. 4 announced it would begin mass vaccinations for those 65 and older and essential workers with frequent or ongoing exposure to the coronavirus as part of their work. Thousands of people in Northeast Michigan fall into those categories, local public health officials said in a press release on Thursday.

It will take time for public health officials to roll vaccines out to everyone in those groups, Josh Meyerson, medical director at the Health Department, said.

“That is a very large population, so I think people will have to have some patience,” he said. “We can’t possibly immunize everyone in that category tomorrow. It will take some time, but we are actively planning for that, and, of course, all of that is dependent on us getting the vaccine we need to do that.”

Meyerson said community partners such as the hospital and Alcona Health Center will work collaboratively to administer the vaccines.

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

“We all want life to return to normal, and, in order to do that, really what we need is to have much lower rates of disease in our community and much lower rates of disease transmission,” he said.

Another Alpena County resident was reported dead today after being infected with COVID-19 and 25 newly infected Northeast Michiganders — including 19 Alpena County residents, four Presque Isle County residents, and three Alcona County residents — were announced by public health officials.

Officials also reduced by one the cumulative number of infected Montmorency County residents, which Devin Spivey, epidemiologist with District Health Departments No. 2 and No. 4, said was because of an error in an address.

As of today, 1,659 Northeast Michiganders were actively infected, meaning they’d been confirmed infected with COVID-19 but have not recovered or died, and could infect others, according to local health department data.

Meanwhile, District Health Department No. 4 announced it would soon begin mass vaccinations, with online registration for clinics beginning Monday afternoon at dhd4.org. Those eligible include those 65 and older and essential workers with frequent or ongoing exposure to the virus as part of their work.

Scheduling is limited and clinics are scheduled as follows:

* 1-7 p.m. Jan. 14 at District Health Department No. 4 in Alpena

* 1-7 p.m. Jan. 19 at the Cheboygan Knights of Columbus

* 1-7 p.m. Jan. 20 at the Eagles Club in Atlanta

* 1-7 p.m. Jan. 22 at a Presque Isle location yet to be determined

* 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 23 at Alpena Community College

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

Those without internet access can schedule their appointment by calling 989-358-7936.

In Northeast Michigan, community vaccinations face many of the same challenges as any rural health care service, Bates said, such as patients — some of whom lack transportation — having to travel to the hospital.

Yet Bates, Sherwin, and Meyerson said they are optimistic they will be able to reach those numbers.

“I think this pandemic is now nearing its one-year mark — I’m excited that we have a way to fight back against this virus: a safe and effective vaccine,” Meyerson said. “I really hope and urge everyone who can to get immunized. Together, we can eliminate this virus from our community.”

Vaccinations in Northeast Michigan

The number of coronavirus vaccines administered per 100,000 residents. The per-capita numbers for Northeast Michigan counties are higher than the actual number of doses given because those counties have fewer than 100,000 residents.

Alpena: 3,187

Presque Isle: 1,672

Alcona: 1,408

Montmorency: 1,090

Statewide: 1,664

Source: News analysis of state data

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