SMC, health department’s COVID-19 vaccine collaboration a success

Published 11:11 am Friday, February 5, 2021

DOWAGIAC — The Southwestern Michigan College gym has been bustling in recent weeks, and it is not because of a sports team.

The college hosted the Van Buren/Cass District Health Department’s third on-campus COVID-19 clinic Thursday, providing Moderna vaccines for 400 Phase 1B recipients — frontline workers and people ages 65 and over.

“This was our third week in a row at 400 vaccines,” said Danielle Persky, deputy health officer and director of health promotion staff at the VCDHD. “The college has been instrumental in setting this up. This is our largest clinic facility in Cass County, and it is necessary. They offered their facility to us no questions asked.”

SMC President Joe Odenwald was more than happy to offer use of the gym to the health department.

“Last year, when the vaccine became available, I allowed for a portion of campus to be used for vaccinations,” he said. “We are providing space in the gym and our personnel aren’t involved. As long as they have the shots, they can have the gym. We have a good parking lot, we keep it up. We know it is safe and we have the proper infrastructure in place. If they wanted the gym for the next 300 days, they could have it.”

According to Persky, the clinic hosts 20 appointments every 15 minutes. Upon receiving their vaccinations, clients must wait in a waiting area for 15 minutes after taking a dose to make sure there are no adverse reactions, which requires a large waiting area featuring 50 to 100 waiting chairs spaced six feet apart.

Having the clinic in a gym allows that type of spacing to be possible, Persky said.

“We have 80 appointments every hour,” Persky said. “We’re happy about that. We’re filling up every week and have yet to have any unused doses. We’re hoping that continues.”

In an effort to engage partners, the VCDHD has enlisted pharmacy partnerships with Paw Paw Village Pharmacy, Dowagiac Family Fare Pharmacy, 56151 M-51, Dowagiac, and the Cassopolis Family Clinic Network, 261 M-62, Cassopolis, to receive 130 vaccine doses apiece from the health department to distribute to Phase 1B persons.

Persky said the health department began administering the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Cass County this week. The challenge has been balancing the continued administration of the first dose and making sure everyone eligible for the second dose receives it.

“For the second dose, there is a 28- to 42-day window to receive it after the first dose,” she said. “We are trying to be as close to 28 days as possible.”

Cass County’s demand for the vaccine currently far outweighs its supply. According to data from nonprofit COVID Act Now, Cass County ranks last in the state in terms of vaccinations received, with just 3.2 percent of the county having received the first dose.

According to Persky, other counties having large, prominent health care systems supporting the vaccination effort has had an impact on availability.

“It’s a challenge and very frustrating,” Persky said. “We are just as frustrated as community members. Currently, our department is the only entity in the county receiving vaccines. We would like to see our partners have orders filled. It’s a frustrating situation, but we have to have both faith and trust as a health department. We have been able to administer 100 percent of our and we’re doing the best we can. [We are] going to continue to advocate for Cass County.”

Persky also asks that community members stop sharing COVID-19 vaccine appointment links with others because it allows those not eligible for the vaccine to schedule appointments.
“We are honoring our system,” Persky said. “People can sign up on our website. We are trying to work through this in the most fair way possible. Please be cognizant of the fact that everyone wants a vaccine. We ask that people honor the system we are trying to abide by.”