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Rush of new vaccine signups fuels optimism in Northern Michigan health departments

Aurora Abraham

Officials with two Northern Michigan health departments said Thursday that a wave of new vaccine signups has them optimistic about controlling COVID-19.

Lisa Peacock, the health officer for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan and the Benzie Leelanau District Health Department said vaccine signups had been slowing down in recent weeks as most people in the state’s first priority groups got their shots.

More than half of Michiganders older than 65 have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Now, Peacock said, as the state makes more people eligible for vaccines, they’re quickly signing up to claim their doses.

“I think what has boosted my confidence this week was the robust response we had to additional eligibility groups being opened up,” said Peacock.

“I hope we see just as robust of a response to the increased – or the expanded – eligibility that happens on Monday and then again on April 5.”

Currently, anyone 50 and older can sign up to be vaccinated through health departments across Northern Michigan, which expanded their eligibility rules faster than much of the rest of the state.

The next steps of the state’s guidance call for anyone 16 and older with a disability or a high-risk medical condition to be able to register for a dose on Monday, and anyone 16 and older, regardless of disabilities or medical conditions, to sign up in early April.

Peacock said the flow of vaccines to her department has increased, but it’s still limited, so she’s urging people to be patient.

The state is aiming to get enough people vaccinated this year to reach herd immunity against the novel coronavirus -- a level of protection that would stop it from being able to spread easily in a community.

Peacock said that’s likely going to require 70 to 80% of the population to be vaccinated. A top state health official has put the figure at 90%.

It’s a difficult task, said Peacock, but “we’re going to do it because we have to do it.”

“I’m not going to say it’s going to be easy to reach that goal. That’s a lot of people, so I don’t think it’s going to be easy. I think it’s a mountain to climb that we have in front of us, but I have every confidence in our community that we can do it.”

Dr. Josh Meyerson, the medical director for the Northwest Michigan and Benzie-Leelanau health departments said he, too, was optimistic about achieving herd immunity through vaccines.

He said the effort was growing more important as the rate of new infections rises, spurred largely by outbreaks among members of high school sports teams.

“It’s not just about practice or games. They do a lot of things together,” Meyerson said. “They may have to travel together on a bus. They hang out together. They study together. They’re a team, and we’ve seen a lot of spread there.”

The Health Department of Northwest Michigan said it’s distributing vaccines to a growing number of health centers, doctors’ offices and pharmacies to bring the doses within reach of more people.

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