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Officials frustrated with vaccine delays

ESCANABA — While America continues its fight against the virus responsible for COVID-19, delays in the vaccination process have left many frustrated — including local healthcare professionals.

“I know the public is frustrated with the ‘slow rollout’ of the vaccine. PHDM is frustrated also,” said Mike Snyder, health officer for Public Health Delta & Menominee Counties, earlier this week. “I can assure everyone that PHDM and OSF is working together and getting the vaccine out as quickly as possible to those who are eligible.”

Each week, local health departments and hospitals across the state can make requests for doses to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which manages the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, based how many doses the healthcare providers believe they can administer in the following week. On Friday afternoon, the state informs the health departments and hospitals how much of the vaccine they will be receiving, and the shipments arrive Mondays. Healthcare providers are required to administer at least 90 percent of their allotment within seven days.

However, just because a health department or hospital requests a certain number of doses doesn’t mean the state will deliver. According to Snyder, the state has been receiving around 60,000 doses per week to dole out. Last week, almost 300,000 doses we requested by providers.

“I am not sure if there is a formula used by MDHHS to determine who gets how much vaccine. I do know they look at how much vaccine has not yet been administered before sending more to a hospital or local health department,” said Snyder.

As of Tuesday, PHDM had received 1,975 total vaccine doses, with 975 doses being for the Pfizer vaccine and 1,000 being for the Moderna vaccine.

However, the numbers don’t paint a full picture. Both vaccines require a second dose at a later date to be fully-effective. A significant portion of the doses received by PHDM — 300 doses of the Moderna vaccine — have been earmarked for these secondary injections and cannot be used to vaccinate new people.

Still, the health department is working to roll out the 1,675 doses it has received for first-doses and has partnered with OSF St. Francis Hospital & Medical Group to bring the vaccine to even more qualified recipients.

“OSF is also receiving vaccine and has given PHDM doses so we can continue our clinics at Bay College. At the end of this week, PHDM will have vaccinated 2,200 individuals with the first dose during the past two weeks,” said Snyder.

According to the state’s vaccine dashboard, the hospital has consistently been receiving shipments containing 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The most recent of these shipment was shipped out by the state on Jan. 16.

Because the number of doses from the state could change significantly based on availability, PHDM has stopped making appointments for the time being.

“Right now we have appointments made through Tuesday, Jan. 26. We are not sure if we can keep these appointments because we will not find out if we will get vaccine until Friday,” said Snyder. “We are not making appointments currently because we do not want to have to cancel the appointments because of lack of vaccine.”

Instead, the health department has created a wait list. As of Tuesday, the list had about 2,500 people on it.

As the waiting list continues to grow, many in the community are wondering why the health department isn’t hosting a mass immunization clinic. Some have suggested using the Ruth Butler Building at the U.P. State Fairgrounds as a location for such a clinic, but according to Snyder, it’s just not practical.

“We cannot have the mass clinics like we did with H1N1 because of the need to maintain social distancing and also because following the COVID vaccination there is a required 15-30 minute observation period we need to complete with each patient,” he said.

Snyder went on to say the health department didn’t want a repeat of the scene in other states — like Arizona, California, Florida and Texas — where residents line of for miles and waited hours for a chance to get the shot.

“Other states have held mass walk-in clinics and the patients have waited all day in line and then they find out there is not enough vaccine. I do not see this as good customer service,” he said.

Currently, Snyder says the best bet for seniors who qualify for the vaccine is to call 211, Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. EST to secure a spot on the waiting list.

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