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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

How do I get a COVID vaccine in Michigan? Tips to boost chances for seniors

Dave DeMerse has been accused of playing God and of corruption — something that takes some getting used to for a small-town pharmacist who dispenses life-saving prescriptions to neighbors.

 

But with COVID vaccines in short supply, perhaps such anger is to be expected, DeMerse, a pharmacist in rural Newberry in the eastern Upper Peninsula, mused Wednesday.

He’s fielded calls from downstate and from Wisconsin, and the accusations typically start when someone feels another person less worthy gets the vaccine before them.

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“We’ve gotten some hate, for sure,” DeMerse said.

The sentiment isn’t uncommon throughout Michigan, as questions about equity and line-cutters proliferate as President Joe Biden is set on Thursday to tour the Pfizer facility in Portage that makes one of the vaccines.

Michigan has distributed 1.1 million doses of the vaccine, inoculating 11 percent of the population. That rate is good for 33rd in the nation, but not enough to quell complaints DeMerse and others hear about others getting the vaccine outside the first priority group of health care workers, seniors and other frontline essential workers. 

It will take until at least mid-May for 50 percent of Michigan’s eligible population to be vaccinated, even with the recent purchase of another 200 million vaccines by the Biden administration that brings the national doses to 600 million total from Pfizer and Moderna, state epidemiologist Sarah Lyon-Callo said Wednesday during a press call. 

A third drug maker, Johnson & Johnson, this month asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to authorize its vaccine.

But frustrations remain because it’s unclear when those doses will reach Michigan’s network of providers and so much success at getting the vaccine seems to rely on persistence or just plain luck.

 

Two months after the state began administering doses, 35 percent of Michigan residents 65 and older have received the first shot, compared to 46 percent in North Carolina, 24 percent in Florida and 19 percent in Pennsylvania. (Indiana and Ohio compile rates by age differently, making comparisons impossible.)

Bridge Michigan has spent weeks talking to those who have received the vaccine, hearing about how many phoned clinics repeatedly or set alarms to register on sites the minute daily applications open.

With that in mind, here are 10 tips for success to increase odds of scheduling a vaccine: 

Register with as many large retail locations as possible

Currently, Rite Aid and Meijer are offering vaccine appointments at dozens of locations statewide for those ages 65 and up. Other pharmacies, including CVS and Walgreens, are expected to get shipments of the vaccine in the coming weeks. 

Create online accounts and sign up for future updates on the pharmacies’ vaccine distribution. Regularly check your status.

Register with your local health department

Schedule a vaccine with a local health department. How you do that — online versus a phone call — varies by county. The state lists links to all its health departments here.

Many counties statewide offer appointments for seniors. Wayne County Health Department is now only scheduling appointments for frontline workers and teachers. Seniors should sign up through their own hospital systems or with Meijer. Detroit seniors can schedule an appointment at the TCF Center. Detroit residents 60 and older with chronic medical conditions are also eligible to receive the vaccine, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan announced on Wednesday. 

Sign up for county email alerts to stay up to date on when more doses become available. 

Check with local hospitals

Contact your local hospital to see how they’re offering vaccines outside their patient population.

For example, War Memorial Hospital in Sault Sainte Marie is collaborating with a local EMS provider for a community vaccination clinic on Sugar Island later this month for Chippewa County residents 65 years and older. 

This link offers a list of hospitals in your region.

Check with local providers and pharmacists

Some primary care physicians have received doses.

Among them are providers serving in a network of federally-qualified health centers that primarily serve low-income and underinsured. Centers throughout the state have received 13,300 doses of the vaccine as of Wednesday in batches of 100 to 300, said Philip Bergquist, operations operations officer with the Michigan Primary Care Association, which represents the centers.

Still, those are destined for patients who are traditionally underserved or have limited access to vaccines, such as those who have limited or no transportation or Internet access, Bergquist said. 

Check with your health care provider — whether it’s a federally-qualified health center or another — to see if they have started a waiting list and to ask about what other options might be available to you. 

Additionally, local, independent pharmacists may receive vaccines if they haven’t already, like DeMerse in the Upper Peninsula. Check with yours to see if they have a waiting list.

Monitor social media

Follow your local health department on Facebook and Twitter. The groups are working to provide the public with important updates on vaccine distribution in the community. 

Last week, the Washtenaw County Health Department announced on its Facebook page that several local Rite Aids had new availabilities for vaccine appointments. Residents shared their tips for registering in the comments section. 

Change your notification settings to get an alert whenever the health department shares a new post on social media. If the group announces a new slate of appointments, you’ll be one of the first to know. 

Be persistent

With a statewide shortage of vaccine supply, it will likely take more than one phone call to set up a vaccination. 

Some Michiganders told Bridge Michigan the key to scheduling an appointment was hours of phone calls and social media mining. 

Make time each day to check out local pharmacy and health department websites and social media. Reach out to others to see if they’ve been successful in registering. Ask relatives and friends to help with the daily searches if you have difficulties with technology or don’t have enough time to look. 

Be prepared

Have all of your information on hand when looking to schedule a vaccination online or by phone. Appointments appear and are filled up quickly. Don’t waste time searching for medical history and insurance information. Make sure to include any information about previous allergic reactions to vaccines. 

Be a good neighbor

Do you have an elderly relative, neighbor or friend who is still having difficulties getting the vaccine? 

Offer to help them sign up through local pharmacies and health departments. Ask others how they’ve been successful in scheduling an appointment and share the information with those who are still struggling to sign up. 

Be opportunistic, but fair

Don’t cut in line for vaccines by working the system and using personal connections or clout.  The priority schedule is set up by experts as a way to work through the most vulnerable populations first.

However, if you’re offered the vaccine legitimately — for example, at the end of the day by a pharmacist with an extra dose, take it.

“A dose in someone's arm is better than a dose in the trash can,” Lyon-Callo, the state’s chief epidemiologist, said Wednesday.

Be patient

The demand for COVID-19 vaccinations is outpacing the speed of distribution. But rollout efforts are speeding up — the number of doses administered has climbed steadily each week since Dec. 15, with a high of more than 310,000 vaccinations last week. 

COVID-19 case rates are down 85 percent from the mid-November peak, the state’s chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said on Wednesday.

The trends are encouraging, she said. But there are still not enough vaccines for all who want one right now, she acknowledged. 

“We and our local health departments, our hospitals and other partners thank you for your patience,” Khaldun said. “We will all keep working around the clock until everyone who wants a vaccine is able to get one.”

— Bridge reporter Mike Wilkinson contributed

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