Berrien County health officials provide update on vaccine availability

BERRIEN COUNTY — As Michigan officials clear the way to give more people access to COVID-19 vaccines, Berrien County health officials said Friday they are distributing it as quickly as possible. The process is slowed by the vaccine supply.

“We have the ability to accelerate and open up to the people who are eligible for vaccination,” said Berrien County Health Department Health Officer Nicki Britten in a Facebook Live address with Spectrum Health Lakeland’s President Loren Hamel. “The main limiting step in how quickly we can vaccinate remains supply and the number of vaccines available.”

Britten said in Berrien County, the vaccine has been being deployed to the people in Phase 1A, which includes medical personnel, direct and indirect healthcare providers, outpatient health care, dental providers, and long-term care workers and residents.

“The broader groups now eligible, according to state guidance, are still dependent on local vaccine availability,” Britten said. “It does include adults 65 and older in Berrien County.”

As more people become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine across the state, including educators, childcare providers, police officers, first responders, staff in jails and juvenile centers as of Jan. 11, the Berrien County Health Department is working toward getting everyone 75 years of age and up, in addition to Phase 1A, vaccinated as a priority.

“A lot of that is as age increases, the likelihood of mortality does increase,” Britten said, of COVID-19 deaths.

Hamel acknowledged news that other states or hospitals in the country had not been distributing COVID-19 vaccines quickly, and instead saving them.

“In Berrien County, we are scheduling and giving vaccines as fast as we get them,” Hamel said. “When you talk about immunizing healthcare workers and everybody else, it’s a two-dose process. We have to have a vaccine committed and available for the second dose three weeks later.”

The two-dose commitment makes the scheduling process and availability process more complicated, Hamel said.

“The issue here is the supply is not as high as the demand for the vaccine,” Hamel said. “It’s going to be complicated as we go forward.”

The BCHD has forms to request a COVID-19 vaccine appointment for healthcare workers or other individuals in Phase 1A on their website. A second form has been added for residents 65 years of age and older to be placed on a waitlist for their vaccines.

Britten said the BCHD is working with partner organizations to get in touch with residents who are older or who may not readily have access to a smartphone and internet.

“We really are working through this multifacetedly,” Britten said.
Hamel said Spectrum Health Lakeland and the BCHD were resisting efforts as people voiced wanting to go ahead of their turn.
“We have to do this as equitably and fairly as we know how,’ he said.

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