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Health department: First vaccine batch expected by next week

MARQUETTE — It is anticipated that UP Health System-Marquette will receive the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines by next week, said Dr. Robert Lorinser, medical director of the Marquette County Health Department, Dickinson-Iron District Health Department, Western Upper Peninsula Health Department and Public Health, Delta & Menominee Counties.

“As soon as it’s here, we’re ready to go,” Lorinser said.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services indicated it has set an initial operational goal of vaccinating 70% of individuals age 16 or older, or about 5.6 million people, for COVID-19 by the end of 2021.

Frontline health care workers at two Michigan hospitals on Monday were the first people in the state to receive the COVID-19 vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration as well as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The vaccinations took place downstate at Michigan Medicine and Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital, the MDHHS reported. Additional Michigan hospitals are expected to begin vaccinating health care staff later this week.

Even with COVID-19 vaccinations starting in Michigan and worldwide, MDHHS officials urge everyone to continue practicing preventative measures such as properly wearing masks, social distancing and frequent handwashing to reduce the spread of the virus until the vast majority of people have been vaccinated.

Priority group concerns noted

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has updated the state’s COVID-19 vaccination interim prioritization guidance, which concerns officials at area nursing homes.

Wayne Johnson, administrator of Norlite Nursing Center in Marquette, believes nursing homes should receive the initial batches of the newly approved Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines the same time as area hospitals.

In its update, MDHHS said it is following CDC recommendations for prioritization of distribution and administration of vaccines for individuals. It said those recommendations are based on input from the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

As initial guidance, the ACIP recommended that health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities be offered the vaccine in the initial phase of the vaccination program.

The CDC and ACIP have defined populations for the different phases:

≤ Phase 1A includes paid and unpaid persons serving in health care settings who have direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious materials and are unable to work from home, as well as residents of long-term care facilities.

≤ Phase 1B includes some workers in essential and critical industries, including workers with unique skill sets such as non-hospital or non-public health laboratories and mortuary services.

≤ Phase 1C includes people at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness due to underlying medical conditions, and people age 65 and older.

≤ Phase 2 is a mass vaccination campaign for all adults age 16 and older.

What concerns Johnson is the Phase 1A Priority One subgroup. This subgroup, according to the MDHHS, was created with an aim of keeping critical health care infrastructure open and functioning by vaccination of staff who perform direct patient care and work in critical areas. The groups of employees included in the Phase 1A Priority One subgroup are:

≤ Group A: emergency medical service providers, including medical first responders;

≤ Group B: general medical floor staff;

≤ Group C: emergency department staff; and

≤ Group D: intensive care unit staff.

Phase 1A Priority Two focuses on preventing outbreaks and protecting residents in long-term care facilities, according to the MDHHS.

Phase 1A Priority Two Group A includes workers who have direct contact with a large number of “vulnerable” residents, including skilled nursing facility staff, psychiatric hospital staff, staff in homes for the aged, staff in adult foster care centers, assisted living facility staff and home health care workers caring for high-risk patients.

Group B includes “vulnerable” residents in long-term care facilities, including skilled nursing facility residents, psychiatric hospital patients, homes for the aged residents, adult foster care residents and assisted living facility residents.

Phase 1A Priority Three focuses on keeping necessary health care infrastructure functioning, with these groups included:

≤ Group A: workers with direct patient contact who conduct high-risk procedures;

≤ Group B: other workers who have direct patient contact, including outpatient, urgent care, ambulatory care and home health care; and

≤ Group C: workers who have indirect patient contact with specialized skills critical to health care system functioning.

Johnson is concerned that the state of Michigan has chosen to first provide vaccinations for hospitals and first responders.

“Nursing homes are getting ‘back-burnered,'” Johnson said.

Johnson pointed out he feels that nursing homes have not been made a priority in “the eyes of the state of Michigan,” even though they represent over 42% of the mortalities from the coronavirus statewide.

“We’re all pretty upset about this,” said Johnson.

He also expressed concern over the CDC recommending nursing home facilities should be in the first wave, but Michigan coming up with its own plan.

Johnson expects nursing facilities will receive the vaccine in three to four weeks.

“We’ll be before the essential worker at Meijer or Target,” Johnson said. “We’ll be before the dentist and the massage therapist, but we’ll be after every first responder, probably every police officer, probably every firefighter, everybody who works over at UP Health System-Marquette.”

Guard supports

vaccination efforts

The Michigan National Guard received a request from the MDHHS to support community health care organizations with logistical and medical assets for COVID-19 vaccinations across the state, according to the State Emergency Operations Center.

Guard leadership has analyzed its medical assets and logistical requirements and plans to augment health care providers across Michigan, where requested, in the administration of the vaccine.

The guard will first staff around 50 COVID-19 vaccination and testing teams, or CVTTs, that are composed of a uniformed medical technician and one or two administrative support personnel. The CVTTs will report to four hospital locations deemed a priority by the state of Michigan as early as today.

“We will provide medics and administrative support to hospitals and local health care organizations and work to fill their needs,” said Col. Ravindra Wagh, Michigan National Guard joint operations officer. “For some locations, that will mean directly administering the vaccine to their staff. We will also provide administrative support when needed, freeing up critical frontline hospital employees and allowing them to focus on the ongoing battle against COVID-19.”

The guard is ready to surge its CVTT capacity when needed and in any location throughout Michigan’s 83 counties.

The guard has been integrated into the state’s emergency response to the pandemic since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced its activation on March 18. Across the state, the guard also continues to support COVID-19 testing and assisting at local food banks. There are currently several hundred Michigan National Guard members supporting these missions. COVID-19 vaccination support by the guard is expected to continue into spring 2021.

For more information about COVID-19 vaccine, visit Michigan.gov/COVIDvaccine.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net

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