Vaccinations may be yearlong process in Berrien County

Published 3:54 pm Wednesday, February 10, 2021

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BERRIEN COUNTY – Spectrum Health Lakeland President Loren Hamel believes the COVID-19 “vaccination stage” will stretch through the end of 2021.

“It may go beyond ’21. This is not a short game. Be patient,” Hamel said. “Be careful. This is not over yet. Lives are still at risk. Help your friends and loves ones be diligent as well. You can protect their lives and safety by encouraging them to be diligent.”

The parting words came at the end of a joint COVID-19 update from Spectrum Health Lakeland and the Berrien County Health Department Health Officer Nicki Britten.

Britten began by saying the percent positivity of COVID-19 tests had continued to decrease to around 7 percent, with new cases by day hovering between 25 and 30 per day on average.

“That’s remarkable progress from where we have been and a very manageable place for us to be right now,” Britten said. “One of our goals with COVID-19 transmission is to make sure that we don’t ever get to a situation where the healthcare system is overwhelmed and unable to provide high quality healthcare for all needs, COVID-19 and non-COVID-19. We are in great shape right now.”

Britten cautioned against becoming lax about precautions, like masking, hand washing and social distancing, due to the arrival of the U.K. variant, B.1.1.7., of the COVID-19 virus confirmed in Van Buren County.

“We have every reason to believe it is here in Berrien County, we just haven’t identified it yet through the special testing that would identify that strain,” Britten said. “That strain of the virus is more infectious. It is more likely to spread between people than what we were seeing throughout much of last year.”

Hamel said most variants being seen do not appear to be more severe.

“There are folks that estimate there are thousands of variants,” Hamel said. “This occurs probably with any pandemic. We just have resources to track it little better.”

Due to the variants, Hamel acknowledged there was talk in the scientific and medical communities about annual booster vaccinations in the future similar to the flu shot.

“That hasn’t been decided yet,” Hamel said.
While Spectrum Health Lakeland has been experiencing fewer COVID-19 patients being hospitalized, Hamel said those becoming severely ill do not fit neatly into one category.

“We have had folks in their 30s and 40s on prolonged ventilator assistance,” Hamel said.

As both Hamel and Britten gave an update on vaccine supplies, method and process, both acknowledged the frustrating process.

“Essentially, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are responsible for making allocations of vaccine to the states ad also some federal contracts in place,” Britten said.

Allocations are based on population. The state receives its allotment of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and then disperses them at the county level based on a formula of available doses and the eligible population. The allocations go to health departments, hospital systems and federal contracted partners, like Meijer.

Britten said the health department is not able to request a number of vaccines to expect.

“If that was the case, I can assure you we would bet getting at least 7,000 doses of vaccine in our county every week,” Britten said. “We could use a lot more than we currently get. The production is the limiting factor.”

Though the supply creates a backlog of appointment requests, both Britten and Hamel encouraged residents eligible for the vaccine to sign up for the waitlists through MyChart with Spectrum Health Lakeland and through the forms on the Berrien County Health Department. Each said only one sign up was necessary, and that residents could also put themselves on vaccine waitlists with other entities, like Meijer. Britten asked that when a resident has an appointment that they do not make multiple appointments across providers.

Both Britten and Hamel acknowledged residents who have underlying health conditions expressing their need to be vaccinated. Britten said that while they are beholden to guidelines by the government, she said vaccinations continuing to occur do help everyone.

“Having more people vaccinated does protect the vulnerable,” Britten said. “As more and more people are getting vaccinated it does increase the amount of immunity in the community. It helps stamp out lines of transmission and make it less likely for viral transmission to occur.”