Mich. fire chief to state: Let us administer COVID-19 vaccine
Birmingham Fire Chief Paul Wells said in a letter to state officials that his department's medics could bring the shots to senior living locations like they did with COVID-19 tests
Detroit Free Press
BIRMINGHAM, Mich. — The city of Birmingham wants a shot with the shots.
It's asking the state of Michigan and Oakland County if it can receive COVID-19 vaccine so paramedics can inoculate the city's residents, particularly senior citizens and essential workers, through a pilot program.
The city is armed with enough needles and syringes to vaccinate 5,500 residents, said Paul Wells, fire chief and the city's emergency manager.
"I know there's a shortage (of vaccine) right now, but these conversations, these plans, we want to be ready when a truckload shows up. We want to help get that into people's arms as soon as possible," he said. "Please give us a shot ... The city of Birmingham wants to do this for their residents."
Wells' request went to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and Oakland County.
The county welcomes its community partners offering ideas on how to help.
"We're open to looking at other means for administering the vaccine, but we don't have adequate supply right now to implement something directly into a community. We just have vaccine supply to operate as we have been: drive-thrus at various sites in the county," said Bill Mullan, spokesman for County Executive Dave Coulter.
Those now eligible to receive a vaccine include health care workers and those in long-term care facilities, people over age 65, teachers and police officers among others.
Wells said the city would start by administering 50 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine a day and work up to 100 doses a day, Monday through Friday.
"We don't have the supply at this point to designate 50 doses a day to any particular municipality for their own use at this time," Mullan said. "Certainly, a municipality can go to the state of Michigan to become a direct provider of the vaccine and get the vaccine from the state if that's what they wish to do."
The state health department would not have to sign off on the city's plan, spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin said in an email to the Free Press.
"We support local health departments working with partners to increase vaccination points as more vaccine becomes available as we work to reach our goal of vaccinating 70% of Michiganders over age 16 as quickly as possible with safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine," she said.
Sutfin said local health departments and health systems across Michigan are hosting different events to continue increasing the state's vaccination rate, which will help put an end to the pandemic.
In his written request, Wells said the fire department administers more than 150 flu vaccines annually to city employees and has been doing so for 25 years. He said it is an advanced life support agency with 32 licensed paramedics, 90% of which have already received the COVID-19 vaccine.
In addition to giving the shots, trained paramedics would be on standby for the 15-minute observation period after a shot has been given to watch for any allergic reactions.
In his letter, Wells said the city could pick up the vaccine from the county or anywhere in southeast Michigan and administer it in the allowable timeframe, with appointments through the health department or a call center the city could establish.
He also said it would provide the necessary paperwork and information about those vaccinated to the county or state under the required timeframe.
The county is receiving the Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored in ultra-cold freezers. At the drive-thru vaccination clinics established by the county health division, each syringe is prepared and double-checked by a team of county workers before being taken to those coming through to be vaccinated.
Wells said about 5,000 syringes and needles were purchased in April, shortly after the coronavirus pandemic began. More were purchased later — enough to administer two doses of the vaccine to 5,500 people when it became clear a second dose of vaccine would be needed with the current shots.
Wells said the plan would be to go into senior living locations, as it did to help with coronavirus testing, and possibly host a drive-thru vaccination clinic at the main fire station.
In addition to the Oakland County Health Division, the city of Detroit is running a drive-thru mass vaccination clinic in the TCF Center garage, which opened Wednesday. Macomb County has a vaccination clinic at the VerKuilen Building in Clinton Township.
All of the sites are by appointment only and are based on the supply the city or county health departments receive each week from the state. The supply coming in is low, but demand is high.
The Oakland County Health Division has 17,221 vaccination appointments through Feb. 28, according to its COVID-19 vaccine dashboard. No appointments were available as of Thursday, but more could open up based on future supplies of the vaccine.
Mullan said the county health division again is asking for 5,000 doses of the vaccine next week. It won't know until early next week how many doses it will receive. It's been getting 1,950 doses a week, with hospitals and health systems in the county receiving more.
Mullan said 118,000 people signed up for the county's new Save Your Spot online link to help identify those who are eligible and interested in receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
"I think they're gonna have supply caught up very soon here, but they'll be sitting on the vaccine," Wells said. "Let us help out, begin a site with our own personnel. I think this model would expand."
Wells said the city would keep the program to Birmingham's approximately 21,000 residents because city employees would be doing the work and the city bought supplies, such as needles and syringes, to administer the vaccine.
Wells said according to their research, 5,500 vaccines is enough for the city's residents age 65 and older.
He said the city would pick up the additional costs of the program, but it could be reimbursed for some expenses through federal grants.
The city provided several ways for residents to receive updates on vaccine availability:
Sign up for the citywide email at www.bhamgov.org/citywideemail Register for the city's Nixle emergency alert system at www.nixle.com or send a text message with the ZIP code 48009 to 888777 Visit www.oaklandcountyvaccine.com and complete the Save Your Spot form or register for updates from the county health division by texting OAKGOV to 28748.
Wells said 100 people have already signed up for the email and Nixle alerts.
(c)2021 the Detroit Free Press