Health departments shift vaccination strategy as demand dries up

With supply exceeding demand, the focus has shifted to smaller, targeted pop-up clinics

By Carolyn Muyskens
Holland Sentinel, Mich.   

HOLLAND, Mich. — Ottawa County held its last mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic about a month ago. Since then, the vaccine is readily available at pharmacies and grocery stores, and vaccinations are at an all-time low.

In Allegan County, about 500 vaccinations were distributed last week while in Ottawa County, about 1,300 were distributed.

With supply exceeding demand, the focus for the county health departments has shifted from mass clinics to smaller, targeted pop-up clinics.

"I have COVID-19 vaccine in the freezer just waiting to be used," said Toni Bulthuis, immunization supervisor for the Ottawa County Department of Public Health.

"Now it's people who are young and don't feel COVID is a risk to them, or they haven't had a chance to get vaccinated or didn't think it was important."

Bulthuis helped manage the massive Holland Civic Center Place clinic which could handle 2,500 daily appointments and Grand Valley State University's Holland campus clinic which could handle up to 1,000.

Those clinics now distribute 50-150 doses a week.

This week, the department administered second doses in the Ottawa County Jail, driving up their numbers a bit, Bulthuis noted.

A walk-in clinic is still open at the health department's offices and the "strike team" goes out an average of five times a week for pop-up clinics at festivals, apartment buildings, or events. A tent has been stationed at the Holland Farmers Market several times this summer.

"We are working with the community organizations and using our statistics for the county as to where there might be areas in our county that there is less vaccination uptake," Bulthuis explained.

"We discuss that with the community organizations and say, 'Hey, there's a little less uptake in your area, what would work for us to come in and do a clinic?'"

Allegan County is using its mobile unit, a donation from the Gun Lake Tribe, for a similar approach.

Interested organizations can contact the Allegan County Health Department to request a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at their office or event.

"We've adapted our approach to have one standing clinic at Allegan High School," said ACHD public information officer Lindsay Maunz.

"We're there every Saturday, but then in the week we work with community partners to bring our mobile clinic out. Those are smaller and right in the neighborhood. It makes the vaccine more convenient for people and allows us to meet people where they are."

Those mobile clinics, on average, vaccinate about 10-15 people in a day, Maunz said.

The health departments have more vaccine supply than they can use and are keeping an eye on expiration dates.

Maunz said the ACHD is in communication with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. MDHHS is helping to coordinate the flow of doses so health department stores can resupply hospital systems instead of the hospitals ordering new doses.

Bulthuis said Ottawa County is also supplying local pharmacies from its unused stores of vaccine.

Vaccinate West Michigan, a collaboration between local health departments, united around the goal of inoculating 70 percent of the West Michigan population against the virus; 70 percent is also Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's goal for the state.

Allegan County is at 52 percent vaccination with 51,637 residents having received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Ottawa County is at 58 percent initiation with 142,677 residents having received at least one dose. Kenty County's rate is at 61 percent while Muskegon County is at 54 percent initiation.

Part of the strategy of taking the vaccine into new parts of the community is to build relationships and trust, said Maunz.

"What we've found is building relationships take time, and we have to find the natural helpers and gatekeepers within the community to help bridge the gap," Maunz said.

"Even with the data that we have, it's hard to convince individuals that the vaccine is safe."

Bulthuis said small community clinics help ease the educational process. Nurses can take the time to discuss research, the vaccine's side effects, and its benefits without the pressure of a mass clinic on a tight schedule.

"The best and most rewarding thing is when there's one person that gets it (the COVID-19 vaccine) and she comes back 15 minutes later with her mom and she gets it, and then she comes back half an hour later with her husband and he gets it," Bulthuis said. "It's that word of mouth."

(c)2021 Holland Sentinel, Mich.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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