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State shortage pauses clinic scheduling in Delta, Menominee: Lorinser announces resignation from health dept. roles; Aspirus delivers its 1st community vaccine doses

Laurium resident Kathy Hendrickson receives her first COVID-19 vaccine on Monday at the Aspirus Laurium Clinic. Aspirus Health began vaccinating the first community members against COVID-19 on Monday. (Photo courtesy of Aspirus Health)

MARQUETTE — Public Health, Delta & Menominee Counties is temporarily pausing scheduling for COVID-19 vaccine clinics for individuals age 65 and older because of a statewide vaccine shortage.

PHDM announced on Monday that it, as well as other local health department and health system partners, were notified that requests for vaccine in Michigan surpassed federal allocations for the upcoming week by more than 210,000 doses.

It said vaccination partners in the state requested 270,000 doses while the total vaccine allocation to Michigan for the week was 50,000 doses.

Even though more residents are now eligible to be vaccinated by expanding the priority groups to include key critical infrastructure personnel and people age 65 and above, it does not mean everyone eligible to be vaccinated will be able to receive an immediate dose.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, wrote in a letter, “We ask for your patience as we balance the equitable need across the state while trying to meet your allocation requests. The above points mean that many entities will run out of vaccine in the upcoming days and may need to cancel or reschedule appointments.”

PHDM anticipates it will be impacted by the limited federal allocations and understands people’s eagerness to get vaccinated, as well as their frustration about waiting. PHDM said that during the past week, it scheduled 2,400 appointments for the vaccine with the assumption it would receive weekly vaccine shipments.

It currently has enough vaccine for appointments through at least Friday when it expected to learn from the MDHHS if more vaccine can be expected next week.

Anyone with appointments already scheduled for Friday might be asked to “pause” while PHDM awaits additional allocations, according to PHDM, which noted that people need to keep in mind their originally scheduled date and time, and watch for future notifications about schedule changes.

No additional appointments are being scheduled at this time, but anyone age 65 and over may contact PDHM at 906-217-8206 or 906-217-8207 to be put on a waiting list. PHDM officials will contact those on the list to make an appointment once vaccine is available.

Dr. Bob Lorinser, medical director of the Marquette County Health Department, Dickinson-Iron District Health Department, Western Upper Peninsula Health Department and PHDM, said Marquette County could face the same vaccine-allocation predicament.

“Everybody has a shortage, right?” Lorinser said. “It’s not like you can pick it up in the grocery store.”

The MCHD, he said, has a simple guidance: “If we have vaccine, we will give it until we’re out. Then we have to pause, too.”

Lorinser noted that doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine come in 975 at a time, for instance, so 975 appointments will be made at a time.

Currently, MCHD still has vaccine to administer, and it likely will issue a public service announcement on how it’s moving forward, he said.

Lorinser also noted he has resigned from his medical director duties, giving a 90-day notice on Monday. He did not provide a reason for his resignation.

He first assumed those duties in November.

The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department on Monday also asked the public to be patient with the process of vaccinating everyone who wants to receive the vaccine.

It said that due to the “lack of a sufficient supply of vaccine,” clinics are by appointment only, and appointments for this week have been filled. Residents are asked to periodically check the WUPHD website at www.wupdhd.org for available clinics.

WUPHD also asks residents who have booked appointments to make every effort to keep them, and to cancel the appointments via scheduling email if they cannot make them.

Request for vaccine purchases made

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar requesting permission to directly purchase up to 100,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines for Michigan.

Whitmer also noted that she and eight other governors sent a letter to the Trump administration requesting the administration distribute the millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses that are currently being held back. She said she has not received a response.

“We remain ready to accelerate distribution to get doses into arms,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Toward that end, I am writing to request permission for the state of Michigan to make a one-time purchase of up to 100,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine directly from Pfizer to be distributed and administered consistent with (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines and the (Food and Drug Administration’s) Emergency Use Authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.”

Aspirus begins vaccinations

Aspirus Health on Monday began vaccinating its first community members against COVID-19. Last week, the MDHHS announced the state was expanding COVID vaccine eligibility from Phase 1A to Phase 1B.

Phase 1B includes individuals age 65 and older, as well as frontline essential workers, although MDHHS is asking that frontline essential workers be vaccinated through their county health departments.

Aspirus is now accepting COVID vaccine appointments for individuals in the Upper Peninsula age 65 and older.

“We are excited to offer the vaccine more broadly in our communities,” said Jessica Bessner, director of regional pharmacy for Aspirus, in a news release.

Kathy Hendrickson, a Laurium resident, scheduled her COVID vaccine at Aspirus Laurium Clinic and received her first shot Monday morning.

“I am excited to finally receive the vaccine,” Hendrickson said in a news release. “This is one step closer to ending this pandemic.”

Patients in the U.P. should contact their Aspirus primary care provider’s office to schedule an appointment. Appointments must be made as no walk-ins are accepted currently. Vaccines will be scheduled and administered similarly to flu shots, although the COVID-19 vaccine requires two doses, administered a specified number of days apart.

Patients will be observed for 15 to 30 minutes after receiving their vaccine and have their second dose scheduled during their visit.

Individuals in Wisconsin cannot yet schedule their COVID vaccine, as states are progressing through eligibility phases differently, Aspirus said. Wisconsin remains in Phase 1A, which focuses on vaccination of health care workers and long-term care residents.

Aspirus began vaccinating its employees and other health care workers in U.P. communities on Dec. 17.

Health official gives advice

If a person has had COVID-19, is that individual immune to the coronavirus?

Aspirus Health said health experts indicate the answer is a resounding “maybe.” People who have recovered from COVID-19 usually have antibodies against the virus, which might offer some protection from getting infected again. However, scientists aren’t sure how strong that protection is or how long it lasts.

“It might depend on how severe the original infection was,” said Neil Johnson, NP-C, nurse practitioner at Aspirus, in a news release. “A more severe infection might result in a higher level of immunity. A mild infection could lead to a lower level of immunity.”

There have also been a handful of cases where a person has had a second infection after recovering from the first, and with some of them, the second infection proved worse than the first, he said.

According to Johnson, these cases of reinfection show that people who have had COVID-19 may still be at risk from the virus. That means they still need to follow safety guidelines, such as:

≤ wearing face masks;

≤ staying 6 feet away from others in public;

≤ washing their hands often; and

≤ not touching their eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

Herd immunity occurs when enough people are immune to a virus that it slows the spread through a community. Johnson stressed that “we’re not likely to reach the numbers required for herd immunity through natural infections alone” — and doing so could have a high cost in illness and death.

“A safer way is to create herd immunity through a vaccine,” Johnson said. “One good thing about coronaviruses is that they mutate more slowly than many other viruses. Flu viruses, for instance, mutate quickly. That’s why we need a new flu shot every year.”

But SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, appears to change slowly, he said, which gives hope that an effective vaccine could create herd immunity if enough people get it.

Food-access efforts continue

Whitmer’s Food Security Council is making several recommendations to ensure Michigan families have access to nutritious food during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the governor’s office, the goal is to help residents already struggling to feed their families as well as those facing food insecurity for the first time due to job losses or other challenges related to the pandemic.

“The needs are especially recognizable and critical during a pandemic but must continue to be addressed when the current crisis is over,” Whitmer said in a statement.

The council, which is within the MDHHS, is making recommendations in these areas:

≤ requiring the state to swiftly pursue existing federal food program services and seek flexibility, developing approaches for food distribution such as home delivery and providing incentives for additional retailers to accept online payment from people who receive food assistance benefits;

≤ continuing partnerships with food banks, State Emergency Operations Center personnel, the Michigan National Guard and other organizations responsible for food and nutrition programs and services. A goal is developing a process for communities to create local emergency response plans with their county emergency managers, and developing data-sharing and technology procedures to identify food needs for clients and track the total food distribution across agencies; and

≤ developing a communications strategy to address “panic buying,” prioritizing food workers along the supply chain for personal protective equipment and workplace safety materials, and creating a statewide program that engages restaurants and their workers to distribute prepared meals to vulnerable populations.

The council is part of the governor’s ongoing efforts to improve food security in Michigan. Previously, she gained approval of increased monthly food assistance benefits for approximately 350,000 families. In April, Michigan became the first state to gain federal approval for the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer Program.

In late May, MDHHS started an initiative that allows Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program clients to buy their food online from participating retailers using their Electronic Benefits Transaction cards, known in Michigan as Bridge Cards.

MDHHS is working to implement parts of the Coronavirus Relief Act signed in December, including a 15% increase in food assistance payments. The department is also rolling out the Restaurant Meal Program. Restaurants can enroll now and MDHHS will announce at a later date when eligible food assistant recipients can start redeeming their benefits at participating restaurants.

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

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