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Detroit, Wayne County offer walkup COVID-19 vaccine appointments

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Marion King understands why some people are afraid of getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

“I, too, had fear,” said King, who works as a licensed practical nurse at Henry Ford Health System’s vaccination clinic at 1 Ford Place in Detroit. 

That fear drove King to stall and delay getting a vaccination. 

“I said, ‘I’m not taking it now. I’ll take it in May or June. I want to see what everybody else is like,’ ” she said. ” ‘I want to see what it does to everybody else.’

“I refused the Moderna (vaccination) three times. Three.”

But everything changed in March, when her 66-year-old mother, Marilyn King, told her she wasn’t feeling well. Marion King left work early to check on her and to take her for coronavirus testing.

“My aunt was right along with her,” King said. “When you saw one, you saw the other. … They worked the same job, they did everything (together). Totally inseparable. So when my mom contracted it, I just knew my aunt (Barbara King, 65) had it, too.

“Long story short … from the 2nd to the 9th (of March), my mother not only became debilitated, but also became like demented. … It affected her mental state before it affected her breathing. Same with my aunt.”

Marilyn King died March 11. Four days later, Barbara King died, too.

Barbara King, left, and Marilyn King, were sisters born 11 months apart in July 1955 and June 1954, respectively. They died four days apart of COVID-19 in March 2021. Marilyn King's daughter, Marion King, a licensed practical nurse for the Henry Ford Health System, said it took losing them to convince her to take the coronavirus vaccine. She buried her mother and her aunt on March 20 and got her first dose of a vaccine on March 23.

More:Duggan announces Detroit walk-in COVID-19 vaccine locations, addresses Ford Field numbers

“I had a double funeral. … Two identical caskets, buried side by side,” Marion King said. “It took me to lose my mother and my aunt,” to convince her to get vaccinated. 

“I buried them on the 20th and I got my first vaccine on the 23rd. I have now been fully vaccinated and so has my 19-year-old and my 17-year-old.”

She encouraged others who aren’t sure about the vaccine, who might be waiting like she did, to get the shot and not hold off any longer. 

“I guess my word to the people would be let’s stop being selfish and continue to help those who want to help others by … getting vaccinated. … Help us, help you all.”

Her plea comes as demand for COVID-19 vaccines begins to decline and many providers find themselves with enough supply to offer walk-up, no-appointment-necessary clinics for first doses in an effort to get more shots in arms in Michigan.

Walk-up options grow 

The city of Detroit announced this week its move to walk-up sites and the Wayne County Public Health Division is making its vaccination clinics, including those at its Wayne County Community College District (WCCCD) locations, walk-ups as well, though appointments will still be accepted.

Officials in Oakland and Macomb counties said their health departments are not offering walk-ups, for different reasons, and keeping with their appointment-based systems.

The Oakland County Health Division still has about 150,000 people on its Save Your Spot waiting list, with new appointments coming in every day, said Bill Mullan, spokesman for county Executive Dave Coulter.

From left, Eli Escobedo, 49, of Waterford gets his first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination by Oakland County Health Division nurse Ruth Dargay inside the UWM Sports Complex in Pontiac on April 2, 2021. County officials hope to vaccinate between 1,000 and 3,000 residents each day in the sports complex.

“We’ve gotta get through those before we look at walk-up clinics,” he said. “It is something we are discussing for what we’ll do when we reach an adequate supply versus demand. … But we can’t predict precisely when that will be.”

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said same-day appointments can be found in that county, but officials there haven’t offered walk-up vaccines because “there’s no certainty with a walk-up. We think it’s a better situation to sign up and get an appointment.” He said officials don’t want walk-ups frustrated by long lines.

“There’s such a surplus of appointments right now,” Hackel said. “If they look, they probably can get it within an hour.”

More:7,500 more COVID-19 vaccine appointments available at Ford Field clinic through Monday

On Friday, anyone 16 or older who lives or works in Ingham County can drive up to the Michigan State University Pavilion to get a Pfizer vaccine.

“About half of the eligible population in Ingham County has been vaccinated,” County Health Officer Linda Vail said. “We are now trying to reach segments of the population who have barriers or hesitations around the vaccine. Convenience is a factor for some people, and we are trying to make it easier to get vaccinated.”

‘Part of the solution’

Even hospitals are offering walk-ups.

Beaumont Health, which has provided more than 290,000 vaccinations, offered a two-hour walk-in vaccination trial program Thursday in Southfield — even to those without a myBeaumontChart account. Other walk-in opportunities may be held in the future if the trial program is successful.

“Our goal is to vaccinate as many people as possible. We truly believe the vaccine is the key to ending the pandemic,” said Carolyn Wilson, the health system’s chief operating officer.

Henry Ford Health System officials said Thursday that “this week for the first time, we saw a softening of vaccine demand at our sites,” said Dr. Adnan Munkarah, executive vice president and chief clinical officer. “We were giving almost 20,000 vaccines a week in the past few weeks. This week, so far we’ve administered close to 10,000 doses.

Dr. Adnan Munkarah, Henry Ford Health System's executive vice president and chief clinical officer.

“We believe that this decrease in the vaccination is multifactorial,” he said. “There are many reasons that cause that decrease. First, we have had many people who are eligible for vaccination and wanted to get vaccinated, who have already been fully vaccinated with us and with other sites.

“Some people continue to be hesitant regarding the vaccines or are unwilling to proceed with such. And the pause of the (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine no question has caused some delay, as well as some reluctance, of people who are waiting to see what will happen with that.”

More:Michigan halts Johnson & Johnson vaccines due to FDA concerns of rare blood clots

The one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine was paused April 13 after a recommendation by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because of reports of a half-dozen rare and serious blood clots in women in the United States. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Friday recommended a restart of the J&J vaccine with a warning. The decision must be approved by the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration before it becomes government policy.  

Bob Riney, Henry Ford COO and president of health care operations, said the health system is “making every option available to take any (vaccine) reluctance out of the way.” That includes self-scheduling online at HenryFord.com. Folks do not need to have a Henry Ford doctor or a MyChart account to make an appointment.

“We simply want you to get vaccinated so you’re part of the solution,” he said.

Regarding walk-ins, Riney said: “at our mass vaccination sites, as long as they can accommodate, we are actually taking walk-ins.”

Bob Riney, Chief Operating Officer at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, at his office on June 29, 2020.

“Their preference is for going on and signing up for an appointment because obviously that ensures an individual is going to have a spot. But if someone does walk in and they can accommodate them, they’re making every effort to do so. We will see what our volume looks like in the next week or two, and then if opening up to just pure walk-ins makes sense, we will do so.”

More:Michigan’s COVID-19 case rate appears to have peaked as surge slows

More than 3.7 million Michiganders age 16 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine while more than 2.6 million are fully vaccinated, or 33% of the population. Officials are shooting for 70% of the population to be vaccinated to have community immunity.

The push for more vaccinations comes during a third surge of the virus in Michigan — the worst in the nation — with hospitals stressed by beds filled with younger, largely unvaccinated COVID-19 patients. The coronavirus case rate has begun to fall, suggesting the surge may be waning.

A Henry Ford spokesperson told the Free Press on Thursday that 95% of its hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated.

“Those who were hospitalized after vaccination fell ill before their second dose was able to provide full protection and/or they had comorbidities that put them at higher risk for illness,” the spokesperson said.

Henry Ford’s Riney said officials talk about statistics, but at the end of the day … “human behavior makes a huge difference in seeing whether we go up, or we go down.”

Nearing vaccine-hesitant populations

Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said during a briefing Friday that across the U.S. nearly 3 million shots are being administered per day.

“Going forward, we expect daily vaccination rates will moderate and fluctuate. We’ve gotten vaccinations to the most at risk and those most eager to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. And we will continue those efforts, but we know reaching other populations will take time and focus.”

Zients said officials will make it easier to get a shot, with 90% of Americans living within 5 miles of a location where they can get a vaccine. He said officials are working with states to get vaccine doses to primary care physicians so people can get a shot at their doctor’s office like they do with other vaccines.

“You will also see us focusing on other ways to make it as easy as possible for Americans to get a shot, including encouraging walk-up availability at pharmacies and other vaccination (places) and providing transportation options for those who need it,” he said.

Zients said officials will be “laser-focused” on educating the public about the vaccines, and in the coming days and weeks will “double-down on the getting the facts to the American people” about COVID-19,  the protection the vaccines offer and “the critical path that we play in us getting back to our normal way of life.”

In Macomb County, Hackel said officials guess-timated they would see same-day vaccine appointments for anyone who lives or works in the county age 16 and older by the end of the month, but they are seeing that happen sooner.

The big issue early on was getting vaccines to the senior population, the most vulnerable to the coronavirus and “probably the higher percentage of folks who wanted to get vaccinated,” he said.

“After that, it was pretty much anyone’s guess to how many folks in these other categories of age (would want a vaccine),” Hackel said.

More:A distrust, based on history, keeping many Black Detroiters from getting COVID-19 vaccine

Bill Nowling, spokesman for Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, said officials are getting down to the populations of Michiganders who are more likely to be vaccine-hesitant for a variety of reasons, ranging from anti-vaxxers to millennials who think the risk seems far away for them.

“Over 90% of the seniors wanted vaccine and were ready to call,” Nowling said. “There was pent-up demand when we brought seniors on, early adopters. Now, we’re at the second- and third-level adopters. … That means we have to get better and more intentional of where undecided vaccine accepters are and how we reach them.”

Maysaa Bazzi, 28, of Dearborn works for Wayne County Health department and prepares COVID-19 Pfizer vaccines for the nurses to administer at the Wayne County Community College District Downriver Campus in Taylor on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021.  As many as 2,000 K-12 staff were scheduled to get vaccines that day, as part of the first week of vaccination efforts for educators in the county. The shots were to be given inside the building, but only 300 people could be indoors at once to still maintain social distancing.

County health department officials started offering walk-ups at its vaccination site at the Wayne County Community College District’s Taylor campus after they had slots to fill and people didn’t call for appointments.

“We really filled up the day doing walk-ups,” he said. “The biggest concern was we would be inundated and have to turn people away. It hasn’t happened. Quite frankly, I don’t think it’s going to happen. When we had fewer vaccine doses, we had to manage the supply chain tighter. Now, we don’t have the problem.”

Now, Nowling said officials are making their permanent sites walk-up locations: the Flat Rock Community Center and WCCCD sites in Taylor and Belleville and, possibly in the future, in Harper Woods.

There also may be walk-up options at other community clinics from time to time. Folks who are walk-ups will get an appointment for their second dose of vaccine. Wayne County is vaccinating anyone age 16 and older who lives or works in the county.

More:Vast majority of Ford Field vaccines going to suburban, white residents — not Detroiters

Nowling said health officials also are looking at possible clinics in the afternoons and evenings for people who work, getting more trained workers for the clinics and finding ways to get vaccines and information about them closer to where people live.

‘I had a lot of fear’

For Marion King with Henry Ford Health System, she said her fear was rooted in concerns about how the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were being distributed.

When the vaccines came to market in December, she was working as a nurse manager at a nursing home where Moderna was offered. When she switched jobs and began working at Henry Ford, the Pfizer vaccine was available. 

She was trying to deduce which was better. 

“I wanted to see some on Pfizer, some on Moderna,” said King, a mother of four and grandmother of a 3-year-old. “I wanted to see the side effects. I wanted to see the outcomes. I wanted to … make sure no one was catching COVID after being vaccinated.

“I had a lot of fear. I think it was more so the fear of the unknown.

“My change was when I watched the difference in my mom. And the only (thing) I have now of my mom is this necklace that I wear with her fingerprint on it.”

Contact Christina Hall: [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @challreporter.

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