How Covid Vaccines Are Being Distributed In Washtenaw County


Image Credit: Washtenaw County Health

President Biden wants to get 100 million vaccines delivered in his first one hundred days. But how that rollout will specifically work in western Washtenaw County is still a work in progress.

While two vaccines have been approved, their roll out will last at least well into the middle of this year, and figuring out who can get their doses when, will be a challenge with ever moving goal posts for the average person. Washtenaw County Health’s Communications and Health Promotion Administrator, Susan Ringler-Cerniglia, told the Sun Times News that the county’s goal of vaccinating five thousand people per week has been reduced to only two thousand people due to supply and distribution issues.

“It’s difficult for us to tell exactly where the hold ups are. Is it a distribution problem … or is it a production problem? Either way, I’d say that more impetuous and coordination on the federal level, to get the vaccines distributed, should certainly help,” Ringler-Cerniglia said.

With new, more contagious strands of Covid-19 emerging from the United Kingdom and South Africa, and the start-stop rollout of both FDA approved vaccines about to be rebooted under a new Biden administration, the plan will still be to vaccinate frontline first responders and elderly people in assisted living facilities first. Then, Michigan’s seniors, long term care facilities and educational staff will get vaccinated. Other frontline workers and people aged 16 to 64 with health conditions will start vaccinations in May and remaining essential workers in July. Everyone else 16 or older can expect to wait till mid to late summer, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services website.

The important thing to do is to constantly check the Washtenaw County Health website for updates on who will be available for what when. And once you are able to get on a list, stick to that provider and that schedule. Residents who get their healthcare through IHA can register on their website.

Image Credit: Washtenaw County Health

One of the biggest headaches for healthcare workers is when people sign up to get the vaccine from multiple providers. If you get your vaccine and then disappear on healthcare workers, it causes there to have gaps in the schedule or wasted vaccine, something that Dr. Alon Weizer of the St. Joseph Mercy Health system said has not happened yet in the Chelsea location that he runs.

“I know a lot of people are desperately going around and trying to find different sites, and signing up with different groups to get vaccinated. The challenge that poses to the hospitals, and other groups, is that when we are dealing with both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine, they have to be stored and managed in a particular way. And so we’re scheduling people for these clinics because we want to make sure we’re using all the doses that we got. We don’t want to waste [a single] dose,” Weizer said.

Even after you are vaccinated, life will not go back to normal immediately. A spokesman for St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, Bobby Maldonado said that for the foreseeable future, social distancing, hand hygiene and mask wearing will remain essential.

According to Ringler-Cerniglia, the way it will work in Washtenaw County says that the current plan for Washtenaw County will be to vaccinate people in two main locations – one on the eastern side of the county and one on the western side of the county – as well as dispatching a mobile team. A mobile response team is a group of up to half a dozen healthcare workers who travel to vulnerable, or immobilized communities – assisted living facilities, homeless shelters – to distribute vaccines there, often delivering between 200 and 400 vaccinations.

The Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center is being used for the main eastern location. Ringler-Cerniglia said that a school on the western side of the county has been approved for use as an administration site, but declined to specify which school or district.

Image Credit: Washtenaw County Health

The situation is a bit different for anyone working for the University of Michigan. Frontline medical workers are currently being vaccinated at the Big House, which is also where U of M staff and elderly citizens are starting to be vaccinated, as supplies allow.

“Currently, we are vaccinating staff and students who fall into Phase 1A, and our patients over 65 and older. We are charged with vaccinating our University of Michigan community and expect it will take months to get through that population,” Kelly Malcolm, a spokesperson for U of M Health, said.

The largest vaccination ever attempted in American history is happening in weekly deliveries, according to Ringler-Cerniglia. The seeming lack of coordination means that the system overall has more capacity than they have supplies. Washtenaw County Health finds out every Friday, how much vaccine they will have for the next week and has to change expectations and goals accordingly.

“We have never received all that we’ve ordered,” Malcolm said. “For example, last week we ordered 24,000 doses and only received about 4,000. We have had to limit appointments based on supply.”

But the current plan won’t be the plan for long. The forty-sixth president’s $1.9 trillion proposal for containing the virus that has killed more people than in the Second World War and resuscitate the ailing economy, will have to get through Congress. The White House released a 200 page National Strategy for the Covid-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness, detailing the newly reinvigorated federal response.

Image Credit: Washtenaw County Health

On his first day, Biden reversed a Trump era executive order to pull the US out of the World Health Organization, and to reestablish the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, which Trump ended in 2018. He is also planning on working with local authorities to mandate mask wearing, and to establish clear national rules on how to approach the pandemic. Biden is planning to use FEMA to establish more vaccine distribution centers across the country.

The President is also invoking the Defense Production Act – a law that allows for the government to take over certain industries in times of an emergency, like a war – to provide personal protective equipment. Other executive orders include a mask usage mandate in federal buildings and travel, a move to create a 100,000 employee U.S. Public Health Corps to mobilize support, a “restart package” to help small businesses purchase equipment needed for reopening and establish a Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force to provide recommendations for policy to end discrimination.

According to the World Health Organization, there have been almost 100 million confirmed coronavirus cases, and about 2,075,870 deaths, globally. The United States has seen over 400,000 deaths and 24 million cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The United States has already gone through multiple waves and it is predicted that the second half of this winter will be quite difficult as well.

"Let me be very clear: things are going to continue to get worse before they get better," President Biden told reporters at the White House, Thursday.

Dr. Anthony Fauci – one of the few Trump administration officials to continue under the new Democratic administration – denied recent reports that there was essentially no plan under the Trump administration. But Dr. Weizer, the doctor from Chelsea, did say there were rollout problems early in the process.

“The federal government distributed the vaccine to the states. Anybody in the state who wanted a vaccine clinic had to register with the state. And then what happened is you had to fill out several electronic forms over a couple of months, to be able to register yourself as a vaccination site and request vaccine,” Weizer said.

Some people are of course worried about the speed with which the vaccines have been created. The official line from all federal officials and members of the pharmaceutical industry is that the health and safety standards were followed, as was repeated by Ringler-Cerniglia.

But as Weizer explained, Lansing realized they weren’t going to get as much of the Pfizer vaccine as they needed, so they had to redistribute Moderna’s vaccine to hospitals, resulting in a mismatch of what was available where.

“If think about it, it’s the largest vaccination project we’ve ever done as a country. Of course, we’ve had some logistical hiccups in it … there’s challenges along the way that I think will get steamed out in the next couple of weeks. When you look at this at the end of February, I think its gonna be humming along fairly well,” Wiezer added.

Image Credit: Washtenaw County Health

When asked about how well Lansing has handled vaccine rollout, and the juggling of what was available when, Weizer said “I think they had to make relatively quick decisions.”

In most cases, you can sign up to get on a vaccine schedule at the websites of one healthcare provider or another. But Weizer emphasized the need to stick to one vaccine provider, because if you sign up for multiple the efficiency of the rollout becomes diluted and it creates holes in the schedule. Vaccines are precious and it is important to not waste them with scheduling gaffs or people getting too many shots.

“IHA and St. Joe’s Medical Group expect to receive a supply of the Covid-19 this week,” IHA said on their website, Wednesday. “We will contact patients individually to schedule their Covid-19 vaccine.”

The Michigan Department of Health & Human Services did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

“I know people are really anxious and we promise to provide lots of updates and vaccinate as many people as we can. I really want to encourage the public to be patient. I know it’s hard, we’ve all been living under a pandemic, for pretty soon, it’ll seem like it’s been close to a year. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. I think if people are patient, we are going to everybody. The infrastructure is starting to amp up really quickly to accommodate people,” Weizer said.

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