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Health departments abandon mass vaccine clinics, move to pop-up locations

Brett Dahlberg

Public health departments across Michigan have closed their mass COVID-19 vaccination clinics as demand for the shots has dropped off. They’re focusing now on smaller, pop-up clinics in places that are convenient to people and don’t require a special trip.

There have been clinics outside distilleries, schools and churches in Michigan.

The Central Michigan District Health Department has become a regular outside Ric’s Food Center in Mount Pleasant. They set up with a small canopy, a folding table and chairs, a laptop computer and a van full of vaccines.

Some days, they see a steady stream of people stopping in for a shot. But not always.

On Wednesday, they administered four shots in the morning and then waited more than an hour for a fifth person to arrive.

It was Kevin Tanner, a 17-year-old who was getting his first shot of the Pfizer vaccine on the way to the grocery store with his mother.

“We were going to be here anyway, so we thought, ‘Why not stop in?’” he said.

Tanner plays on a travel baseball team and said he was looking forward to feeling safer around other players.

He’ll also no longer need to quarantine if he’s exposed to a person who tests positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.

“That’s a big perk,” Tanner said. “I had to do that before and it was not fun.”

Amber Herman, the health department nurse who administered Tanner’s shot, said he’s exactly the kind of person they’re trying to reach with these small clinics: people who are actually headed somewhere else, but stop in to get a shot on the way.

In contrast to the mass vaccination clinics the health department used to run, which could have vaccinated hundreds of people a day, Herman and two other health department workers had been sitting in the heat for more than an hour just to get one vaccine dose in an arm. Herman said it was worth it.

“That’s one less person that we’re going to have to worry about possibly getting COVID and being admitted to the hospital and having to go through severe illness,” she said.

Tanner Griffis, one of the other health department workers staffing the pop-up clinic, said they work hard to make these events work no matter the conditions.

“We’ve been out in rain, in wind, in the heat. It doesn’t matter,” he said.

“One time, it was raining, and the tent caught a gust of wind and started to fly off, so we had to attach it to the hitch of the van to keep it held down,” said Griffis. “Just a day’s work.” 

The workers said being out in public like this opens them up to some vitriol. Wendy Trucks, the third health department staffer at Wednesday’s clinic, described being flipped off by a man near their tent a few days earlier.

“Totally unnecessary,” she said.

Herman said they’ve grown a thick skin since the pandemic arrived in Michigan last year.

“We have some profanity stuff said to us, which, you know, is disheartening,” she said. “It’s just sad sometimes.”

But she and the other staffers said for the most part, people are excited to get their shots. Herman said health department workers are also eager to answer questions or listen to concerns folks have about the vaccines. She said it’s one more way to address hesitancy and keep the vaccination rate ticking up.

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