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Northwest Michigan health officials celebrate vaccination success; caution COVID-19 is not gone

Aurora Rae

Counties in Northwest Michigan have some of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the state, but health officials there said Thursday that they’re still concerned about the disease.

Lisa Peacock is the health officer for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan and the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department. Leelanau County was the first in the state to fully vaccinate more than half of its eligible population. Others in the area are close behind.

Peacock said she thinks the 70% threshold that the state set as its goal for herd immunity is within reach.

Still, she said, it’s getting harder to find people who are enthusiastic about getting vaccinated.

Now, she and her staff are trying to make it easy for people who are on the fence to decide to get their shots.

They’re working with local breweries, restaurants and grocery stores to hold small pop-up vaccine clinics on their property.

“I’m amazed at the number of our local establishments that are reaching out to us and would like us to come on site and do vaccination for them, and I just think that’s fabulous,” Peacock said.

But even if the state reaches a 70% vaccination rate, the pandemic won’t simply end, said Dr. Josh Meyerson, the medical director for three local health departments in northern Michigan.

“There’s nothing magical about that number,” he said. “I wouldn’t fixate on that. Seventy’s great, but I’d be happier with 80 or 85,” he said.

“Or, you know, 100%,” Meyerson added after a pause.

The number of new cases each day was dropping in in northern Michigan and across the state, Peacock said, but hospitals were still stretched thin.

“That’s why we need to stack mitigation measures,” she said: vaccines, masks, and distancing, until the pandemic is under control.

Brett joined WCMU in February, 2021, as a general assignment reporter. He was previously the health reporter at WXXI Public Broadcasting in Rochester, N.Y., and has filed stories for National Public Radio, IEEE Spectrum, The Village Voice and other outlets.