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Some healthcare workers Up North will get COVID-19 vaccines this week

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"Medical syringe close up" by wuestenigel is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
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The first batches of the COVID-19 vaccine went out to healthcare workers in the state this week. It’s expected to get to northern Michigan by the weekend. Max Johnston has more on how -- and when -- it will be distributed.

As of Tuesday over 16,000 people in northern Lower Michigan have COVID-19. 300 people have died Up North from the virus  since last Spring.

“This is some of the highest numbers we’ve seen since the pandemic started … so we are very grateful we have a vaccine in sight.”

That’s Munson Healthcare’s Chief Medical Officer Christine Nefcy.

Shipments of the vaccine are expected to hit hospitals and clinics Up North later this week. Munson

Healthcare will get 2,925 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. That will go to staff across their hospitals in northern Michigan.

Some healthcare workers could take it as soon as Friday.

But it’s also going all over the place to small health clinics and county health departments.

Wendy Hirschenberger is with the Grand Traverse County Health Department. They’re slated to get 975 doses this week, the first of which will go to first responders.

“And then we will switch over to non-hospital based medical workers, then long-term care staff and residents,” said Hirschenberger.

A lot is still unknown about the vaccine. Normally they take years to make, this one took 10 months.

That rush to get it out there has some staff skeptical.

In a press conference Tuesday, Christine Nefci said Munson won’t make staff take it. Which she says is fine for now, because they don’t have enough for everybody.

“We are however highly encouraging all of our healthcare providers who are all at a bit higher risk to receive the vaccine if they want to,” says Nefci.

James Walker is a nurse at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City who volunteered to treat covid patients.

On Monday he said he doesn’t know many details about the vaccine -- like when he’ll get it. Walker said the hospital hasn’t communicated much to staff yet.

But despite that:

“Personally I can’t wait to get it soon enough,” said Walker.

Walker says this vaccine is the first piece of good news for healthcare workers in months. It will make him feel safer, and he says it may save his patient’s lives.

“Because It’s hard… it’s incredibly draining… when you work really hard to try and save a patient and there’s nothing you can do,” Walker said.

Another COVID vaccine is also on it’s way. Moderna hasn’t shipped it’s out yet -- but there’s a hearing scheduled on it later this week.

And there’s staff ready and waiting to get that vaccine to smaller, rural areas. Tammy Sorenson is the Community Health Director for Northwest Michigan Health Services.

They’re expecting to get the Moderna vaccine by the end of the month. They’ll drive it to their clinics in Traverse City, Benzonia and Shelby.

“We have been preparing for this day since COVID started.”

They’ve outfitted two cars to safely transport the doses… which are pretty fickle and need to be held at certain temperatures.

Sorenson says they’ll vaccinate staff first. They hope to drive these cars to community vaccination spots in the future, like they did with mass covid testing.

“We were up in agricultural farms and food processing plants, so I think … we’re really ready to mobilize this,” said Sorenson.

As far as tentative plans for mass vaccination.

There could be public vaccination sites, similar to things like drive-thru covid testing.

This first wave of vaccinations for healthcare staff is estimated to take at least 20 weeks.

That means the vaccine could roll out to the general public this Spring. It’s unknown if it will be free.

In the meantime officials say follow the protocols.

Wash your hands, socially distance, avoid crowds, and wear your mask.