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More than half of Leelanau County residents are vaccinated

A Northern Michigan county is the first in the state to fully vaccinate more than half of its eligible residents against COVID-19. 

Leelanau County has vaccinated 52% of its 16-years-and-older population, according to the latest figures from the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Lisa Peacock, the health officer for the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department, said she and her staff achieved the milestone with community support.

“We never know for certain exactly why things happen, but I can tell you for certain that in Leelanau County, we’ve just had such great partnerships throughout this entire pandemic response.”

Peacock said those partnerships started at the beginning of the pandemic, when people volunteered to help hang up the signs announcing screening and masking requirements for employees. She said it continues with teenagers talking to their classmates about how to protect their families from the virus, and neighboring health departments donating vaccine doses.

Presque Isle County had the state’s second-highest vaccination rate, at just under 49% in the state’s data.

District Health Department No. 4 covers that county. Cathy Goike, the department’s public information officer, said getting the 50% milestone in sight “wasn’t anything magical.” 

“There is a desire to be vaccinated in this community,” she said.

Still, said Peacock, reaching the remaining unvaccinated population is getting more difficult.

“It’s definitely harder. I don’t know if I can quantify that in any way, but it’s already harder,” she said. “Working through a waiting list, as demanding as it could be at times, is definitely easier than providing outreach opportunities and education to the community.”

Peacock said health department staff have been holding pop-up clinics at grocery stores and housing complexes, and, like many health departments in the state, their clinics are no longer requiring appointments.

“You can walk right up,” Peacock said.

Removing barriers of convenience, getting doses to people who would have a hard time traveling to a vaccine clinic, and working to assuage concerns about vaccine safety will be the keys to reaching the 70% or higher vaccination rates needed to achieve herd immunity, she said.

Brett has a master’s degree from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism and before Michigan Radio, he was an intern at WNYC and with Ian Urbina of the New York Times and worked at WXXI and WCMU. He also produced freelance reporting work focused on health and science in New York City. Brett grew up in Bremerton, Washington, and holds a bachelor’s degree from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.