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Northern Michigan county first in state to surpass 80% COVID-19 vaccine rate

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Aurora Rae
A clinician shows a sticker at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Central Michigan University

A Northern Michigan county has become the first in the state to vaccinate 80% of its eligible population with at least one COVID-19 shot.

According to state health department data, 80.14% of Leelanau County’s 16-and-older residents have gotten at least one vaccine dose, with the highest rates among the county’s oldest residents.

People in their 70s and 80s were “clamoring” to get vaccinated as soon as the shots were available, said Michelle Klein, the director of personal health at the Benzie-Leelenau District Health Department.

Since then, her staff has been working to bring other age groups up to the same level. The state data show the county’s vaccination rate is lowest among people in their 20s.

Klein said research does show that healthy young adults are unlikely to get extremely sick with COVID-19; “However, 20-, 25-year-olds are also very active,” she said. “They tend to have big social groups. They go to work, they go to weddings, they have parties.”

If those people get sick with COVID-19, they might not feel terribly sick, even if they’re unvaccinated, said Klein. But they “certainly can pass that virus along to other individuals who are vulnerable.”

Klein said the keys to Leelanau County’s high vaccination rate are a strong education system to build trust in science, and easy access to the shots. She said her health department has been hosting pop-up clinics at schools and outside bars and grocery stores to be convenient for residents.

“Do whatever you can to reduce barriers so that it’s easy to get a vaccine if you want one,” Klein said when asked to offer advice to health officials in other parts of the state.