Vaccine Supply a Problem, Not Staffing or Organization, Says Ingham County Health Officer

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Photo courtesy of Ingham County Health Department.

Ingham County Health Department (ICHD) has begun vaccinating individuals in Phase 1B against Covid-19, but the major roadblock is the limited supply coming to Ingham County, explained Linda Vail at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

ICHD has begun vaccinating individuals in Phase 1B.

According to Vail, ICHD receives 2,000 first doses of the vaccine each week for those in Phase 1B, which includes law enforcement officers, firefighters, shelter workers, teachers and support staff who have direct contact with students in grades pre-K through 12, and people age 70 and older. This is in addition to 1,000 weekly second doses for those in Phase 1A, who are primarily frontline health care workers.

Vail said that ICHD easily completes those vaccinations over the course of three, eight-hour-long working days. The Health Department’s team is hoping to receive more vaccines as the federal government releases more to the states and production increases.

The Health Department is the primary group responsible for vaccinating the public. Sparrow and McLaren Hospitals also receive doses, and pharmacies are partnering to vaccinate residents and workers in elder care facilities. But those entities most likely will only introduce vaccines to the general public in May.

Currently, Vail estimates that 83,000 Ingham County residents may fall into Phase 1B, but all appointments through Feb. 24 are currently booked. ICHD projects that it will take until May to vaccinate everyone in Phase 1B.

ICHD has enough staffing to vaccinate more people, but its technology systems were initially overwhelmed.

As ELi reported this past weekend, individuals who received a link to register for an appointment should check back regularly and keep refreshing the appointment page since sometimes individuals cancel their appointments.

Why did some individuals never receive a confirmation email after expressing interest in receiving a vaccine through the form provided by the Health Department?

Vail explained that when the State of Michigan announced on Jan. 6 that it would move to Phase 1B for vaccination beginning Monday, Jan. 11, throughout the entire state of Michgian, only ICHD and one other health department (in the Upper Peninsula) had expressed readiness to move into that phase. As a result, ICHD was the only health department in the Lower Peninsula listed as giving vaccines to Phase 1B.

After the announcement, ICHD was inundated with over 40,000 people – including people from other counties – submitting forms to express interest in receiving a vaccine. These individuals were supposed to receive a confirmation email. Those eligible to receive a vaccine under Phase 1B were supposed to get a second email with a link to register for an appointment. But Ingham County’s IT systems only permit an email address to send 10,000 emails a day.

The Health Department consequently was left unable to send confirmations and had to screen the forms. ICHD received submissions from residents of other counties, but individuals over age 65 seeking a vaccine must live within Ingham County to receive one. (Others eligible in Phase 1B, such as teachers, firefighters, and law enforcement, need only work in Ingham County to receive a vaccine through ICHD).

The rollout continues with assistance for those without internet access or who struggle with using technology.

Those who submitted a form and saw a confirmation screen when hitting submit should consider their form submitted, even if they did not receive a response. People eligible to receive a vaccine through Phase 1B will receive a link to make an appointment when more doses become available. Those who fall in other phases will receive a link when ICHD begins to vaccinate their phase.

Those without internet access can call (517) 887-4623 to make an appointment. Michigan’s 211 service will can also answer questions and assist with online registration. (To reach it, just dial 211 on your phone.) Locally, the Tri-County Office on Aging can assist senior citizens with making vaccination appointments.

The vaccination campaign is expanding as the Covid-19 situation seems to improve.

The daily case count of new Covid-19 cases had continued to decrease and is currently under 50 a day in Ingham. Hospitalizations, ventilations, and emergency room visits are also trending down. Deaths – a lagging indicator of outbreaks – have come down slightly, but Vail told reporters that 7 or 8 individuals had died from Covid-19 over the past weekend.

Percent positivity – or the percent of Covid-19 tests that yield positive results – is currently around 7 percent, which is an improvement, but Vail would prefer it closer to 3% or 5%.

East Lansing’s 48823 zip code still has the highest number of total cases (3,131) and the highest number of total deaths (44) in Ingham County.

Some MSU students will return to the area next week since the university is offering 400 in-person courses. Vail noted that students’ returning caused the outbreak last fall, while those students were engaged almost entirely in online learning. Vail also told reporters that MSU students will have a Covid-19 testing requirement.

Gov. Whitmer announced Wednesday afternoon that some previously restricted activities, such as indoor group exercise and non-contact sports could resume, but restaurants are to remain closed for indoor dining through at least Feb. 1.

Make sure ELi can continue to keep you up-to-date on the latest local news related to the pandemic.

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