St. Clair County Health Department partners with Kroger pharmacies

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ST. CLAIR COUNTY, Mich. – Deborah Kaufman, a 66-year-old retired resident of St. Clair County, patiently waited in the Kroger pharmacy in early March to receive her first vaccination shot for COVID-19. After a 15-minute wait, she was led into a small private room and given the shot.

“I had to wait 15 minutes to see if I had a negative reaction,” Kaufman said over email. “They had numerous chairs well spaced for us to sit in around the pharmacy area. I had no reaction, so I left. They gave me a card with my next appointment.”

Kaufman was one of the patients who have benefited from the recent collaboration between the St. Clair County Health Department and Kroger pharmacies. The health department had teamed up with Kroger in the past with administering flu shots, so Ban George, the health and wellness leader at the Kroger Co. of Michigan, felt this team-up was beneficial for the community.

“It’s been a great partnership and a very smooth operation. The health department basically turned over vaccine supplies to Kroger, and we administer the vaccine in our pharmacies,” George said.

Kroger pharmacies receive a contact list every day from the St. Clair County pre-registration program and staff then call people to set up their appointments. The pharmacies also receive the vaccines from the county, but not for long.

On March 4, Kroger was chosen to be a Federal Pharmacy Partner, George said. Therefore, the company will begin to receive vaccines from the state and federal governments to distribute to the community. The company does not have a definitive timeline for when the vaccines will be available, but George said they are hoping for them to come sooner than later.

The preregistration program, set in place on Feb. 5, allows county residents and workers to sign up to get their coronavirus vaccination, said Jennifer Michaluk, the public information officer for the county’s health department.

“Anyone who works or lives in St. Clair County can pre-register, no matter what priority group they fall in,” Michaluk said by email. “However, only individuals in the current priority groups will be contacted for a vaccine appointment.”

The department is only vaccinating people based on the determination of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The priority guide can be found in the Michigan COVID-19 Vaccination Interim Prioritization Guidance.

As of Feb. 26, around 15,000 people had preregistered through the county’s system according to the health department. As of Feb. 24, the county had administered 24,087 doses of the vaccine. Michaluk said that on average they receive around a thousand doses per week. According to the CDC, for the week of March 7, the state of Michigan was to receive around 100,000 first doses.

St. Clair County’s administration numbers of the first and second vaccines by county population compared to nearby counties in the state as of March 6, 2021. The population is based on census data from 2019 given by the Michigan Senate.

Individuals who are in the eligible priority groups and have preregistered through the program would receive a call from the health department or Kroger. If the call is not answered, they have an hour to get back with the department. If they do not, they lose their appointment. Michaluk said that people will have to be patient due to multiple factors.

“With the current vaccine supply, it could take an eligible individual up to 10 weeks to receive an appointment notification,” Michaluk said over email. “However, we are hopeful that time will move faster when [the] vaccine becomes more readily available in our community.”

The health department runs its vaccination clinics through two main locations: the Blue Water Convention Center in Port Huron and the Washington Life Center in Marine City. Lisa Beedon, a member of the St. Clair County Board of Commissioners, said in the Board of Commissioners meeting on Feb. 18 that the county’s locations and system were not the reason for the holdup.

“They have the ability to vaccinate up to a thousand people in one day with 20 RNs, [registered nurses], or people vaccinating,” Beedon said. “They’ve got the system down, they just physically need the vaccines.”

Cathy Gaber was able to receive both of her vaccination shots through the county’s program. The 68-year-old tried to help her friends sign up for the program, but they had a harder time getting scheduled for vaccinations.

“What we thought for a couple people we were helping, we thought, sign up at any [place] you can because Meijers was taking names, the hospital was taking names and then the county,” Gaber said. “Whoever called you first, you could cancel if you had a second one, but you know most people, they just wanted it as soon as possible.”

Michaluk said the county health department wants people to get the vaccines as soon as they can, even if it is not through them.

“We encourage individuals to sign up for [the] vaccine wherever it is offered,” Michaluk said. “However, we ask that individuals who are able to secure a vaccine appointment elsewhere to please let us and the other organizations know.”

The St. Clair County Health Department has more information about the preregistration on its website and posts daily updates on Facebook about the coronavirus numbers in the county and live Q&As about the preregistration program.

“I thought they did a fabulous job and I appreciate, you know, any of those health members,” Gaber said. “They didn’t have to be there around all those people, but they were, so it was just a wonderful experience.”