As the rollout of a COVID-19 vaccination program launches across the country today, Eaton and Ingham County health officials say they have structures in place to vaccinate health care workers and eventually the general public.
Anna Barna, Barry-Eaton Health Department public information officer, said for the first round of vaccinations the state is working directly with hospitals to provide vaccinations to health care workers.
After that first round, Barna said priority would go to those who come in contact with the virus on a regular basis, and then the health department would coordinate to help vaccinate vulnerable populations.
Dr. Paul Entler, vice president of quality and performance improvement for Lansing-based Sparrow Health Systems, said the hospital system is following a prioritization plan that was made in conjunction with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The plan is split into four phases, with the first being the prioritization of health care workers who come in direct contact with the virus.
While Eaton, like most counties, has had mass vaccination plans in place long before COVID, there are still some uncertainties about what vaccines might become available to local populations. Several manufacturers are working on vaccines for the U.S. market.
“We really have no idea when it’s coming exactly, what form, what the best distribution is going to be,” she said.
Barna said it could take between six months and a year to vaccinate every person who wants to be vaccinated in Eaton County.
Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said COVID-19 vaccines likely will require two doses..
Vail said vaccinations will be available at pharmacies, and large health care providers in the area are talking with pharmacies to facilitate those relationships.
“When we had the mass vaccinations before, everything kind of came to health departments and we kind of had to be responsible for getting it out there. We didn’t have a lot of those partnerships together,” Vail said. “So I’m seeing a lot of that happening with regards to conversation about the vaccine and where it’s being deployed to.”
Sparrow’s Entler said the first phase is the system’s main focus and officials have not yet begun to work with pharmacies for a mass vaccination plan, which is the last phase of the prioritization plan.
Vail said that it’s important that people actually get vaccinated. Barna said that while vaccinations are not 100% effective, they help break the chain of transmission by preventing some individuals from getting it.
“Right now, there’s no breaking those chains of transmission,” Barna said.
Breaking those chains are more important now than ever, with an uptick in community spread in both Ingham and Eaton counties.
“It’s a piece of a whole preventative mechanism in addition to mask-wearing, social distancing and handwashing,” Entler said. “If we’re able to do these things I think we’ll be able to control COVID-19 much more effectively than we have.”