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00000178-73c0-ddab-a97a-7bf830af0000From debate over childhood vaccinations to the changing business of hospital finance, IPR has the stories of hospitals and public health that affect northern Michigan.

Healthcare workers in northern Michigan are preparing to get COVID-19 vaccines this week

Northwest Michigan Health Services

The first batches of the COVID-19 vaccine went out to healthcare workers in the state this week. It’s expected to get to northern Michigan by the weekend.

As of Tuesday, over 16,000 people in northern Lower Michigan have COVID-19. Meanwhile 300 people have died Up North since last Spring.

“[These are] some of the highest numbers we’ve seen since the pandemic started … so we are very grateful that we have a vaccine in sight,” said Munson Healthcare Chief Medical Officer Christine Nefcy.

Munson Healthcare will get 2,925 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which will go to staff across their hospitals in northern Michigan.

Some healthcare workers could get vaccinated as soon as Friday.

But doses are also going all over the region to small health clinics and county health departments.

Wendy Hirschenberger with the Grand Traverse County Health Department, says they’re slated to get 975 doses this week, which will go to first responders.

“Then we will switch over to non-hospital based medical workers, and long-term care staff and residents,” she told reporters Tuesday.

Credit Spectrum Health


A lot is still unknown about the vaccine. Normally they take years to make, while this one took about 10 months.

That rush to get it out has some healthcare staff skeptical.

In a press conference Tuesday, Christine Nefcy said Munson won’t make staff take it. She says that’s fine for now, because they don’t have enough for everybody anyway.

“We are however highly encouraging all of our healthcare providers who are all at a bit higher risk given the work they do, to receive the vaccine if they want to,” she said.

James Walker is a nurse at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City who volunteered to treat COVID patients.

On Monday he said he didn’t know many details about the vaccine – like when he’ll get it. Walker said the hospital hadn’t communicated much to staff yet.

But that hasn’t changed his outlook on the vaccine.

“Personally I can’t wait to get it soon enough,” he said.

Walker says this is the first piece of good news for healthcare workers in months. It will make him feel safer and he says it may save his patient’s lives.

Credit Taylor Wizner
Munson Medical Center in Traverse City.

“It’s hard, it’s incredibly draining and difficult when you work really hard to try and save a patient and there’s nothing you can do,” Walker says.

The Moderna vaccine is coming soon

Another COVID vaccine is also on it’s way. Moderna hasn’t shipped it’s vaccine out yet – but there’s a hearing scheduled for it later this week.

And there’s staff ready and waiting to get that vaccine to smaller rural areas. Tammy Sorenson, community health director for Northwest Michigan Health Services, says they expect to get the Moderna vaccine by the end of the month.

Then Sorenson says they’ll drive it to their clinics in Traverse City, Benzonia and Shelby.

“We have been preparing for this day since COVID started,” she said.

Northwest Michigan Health Services outfitted two cars to safely transport the doses, which are fickle and need to be kept at certain temperatures.

Sorenson says they’ll vaccinate staff first. In the future, they hope to drive these cars to community vaccination spots, like they did with mass COVID testing

“We were up in agricultural farms and food processing plants, so I think … we’re really ready to mobilize this,” Sorenson says.

When can the public get it?

As far as tentative plans for mass vaccination, there could be public vaccination sites – similar to drive-thru COVID testing locations.

This first wave of vaccinations for healthcare staff is estimated to take at least 20 weeks. That means the vaccine could roll out to the general public this Spring. It’s unknown if it will be free.

In the meantime, officials say follow the protocols: wash your hands, socially distance, avoid crowds and wear your mask.

Max came to IPR in 2017 as an environmental intern. In 2018, he returned to the station as a reporter and quickly took on leadership roles as Interim News Director and eventually Assignment Editor. Before joining IPR, Max worked as a news director and reporter at Michigan State University's student radio station WDBM. In 2018, he reported on a Title IX dispute with MSU in his story "Prompt, Thorough and Impartial." His work has also been heard on Michigan Radio, WDBM and WKAR in East Lansing and NPR.