Phones ringing non-stop. Websites crashing. Appointment slots filled within hours. Eligible teachers, front line workers, and senior citizens in northern Michigan all want to know when they can get their COVID-19 vaccine.
As more than 100,000 northwest lower Michigan residents now qualify to be vaccinated, health officials tasked with distributing the vaccine report they are overwhelmed.
Munson hospitals and Up North health departments say they only receive up to a couple thousand doses of the vaccine each week. That’s not nearly enough to immunize the many residents 65 and older who have requested the vaccine.
“It will take time,” says Jennifer Morse, the medical director for District Health Department #10, regarding vaccinations for the more than 50,000 residents older than 65 in her jurisdiction.
The department reports vaccinating more than 1,700 people in 8 counties per day, but interest is still skyrocketing.
“Right now we’ve already allocated out all the vaccine we have,” she said. “We’ve had to cancel some of the appointments because we did not get all that we were hoping for.”
Morse says people should go to the health department website to find updates on vaccine availability. Other local health departments report the same and have hotlines for those who aren’t tech savvy. They ask residents to refrain from calling and emailing with questions.
While they are still vaccinating healthcare workers, Munson Healthcare says they have begun to schedule and vaccinate patients who are upwards of 90 years old.
Dr. Christine Nefcy, the chief medical officer for Munson Healthcare, says they plan to vaccinate about 2,000 people each week, though she wishes it could be more.
“We’ve been told we won’t receive more of the Moderna vaccine until the end of the month,” she says. “What we request and what we want to get out is not always the same as what we receive.”
Northwest Michigan Health Services reports the state is fulfilling only about 22 percent of vaccine doses requested locally.
At the current rate of vaccination, Munson indicates it could take over a year to immunize its 132,000 patients in the 65 and older group—much longer than earlier estimates by the Trump administration, which suggested the general public could start to receive the vaccine by late February.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer directs blame on the limited vaccine doses to the federal government, which she says is holding back some of the vaccine.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did not respond to requests from IPR News.