After waiting weeks for a vaccine appointment through his local hospital, Michael Betz took a friend’s advice and signed up through Meijer pharmacy.
Within 24 hours, Betz, 65, had an appointment with Meijer and received his first dose of coronavirus vaccine two days later.
Through the end of February, Michigan reported hospitals had administered 41% of coronavirus vaccines, with health departments administering 33%. Pharmacies, outside of long-term care programs, had administered 9%.
Health departments continue to lead this month by administering 40% of vaccines, with pharmacies at 25% and hospitals at 21% of total doses administered.
However, when it comes to first doses of coronavirus vaccine 30% of those administered in March come from pharmacies, as compared to health departments (29%) and hospitals (28%). This marks a slight lead for commercial pharmacies for those starting the vaccine process.
Betz, of Van Buren County’s Mattawan, was motivated to sign up at a pharmacy after watching Facebook friends posting about getting the vaccine. He was happy for them, but realized he had to get more aggressive than signing up through his county and local hospital, he said.
It’s important to get teachers and health care workers done first, Betz said.
“And then look at old guys like me, get us done,” Betz said. “And when I’m seeing plenty of younger people somehow getting it done, it’s like, well, I’m gonna have to do something. I got to look out a little more for myself here.”
Pharmacies like Walmart, Meijer, CVS, Rite-Aid, Cardinal Health, Walgreens and Kroger have begun administering vaccines in Michigan. They, however, get their vaccine supply directly from the federal government or CDC, rather than through state shares, said Lynn Sutfin, public information officer for the state health department. None of the state’s vaccine allocations are sent to retail pharmacies.
Vaccinations by retail pharmacies are reported to the Michigan Care Improvement Registry, and therefore aren’t tracked by the state health department, Sutfin said.
Pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS originally only vaccinated those who lived or worked in long term care facilities, said Gillian Conrad, spokeswoman for Berrien Health Department.
“It’s only been within the last couple of weeks that more pharmacies have been able to come online and provide vaccines (to the public),” Conrad said.
Pharmacies and health departments both have strengths in providing vaccines, Conrad said. Pharmacies already have the infrastructure to set up appointments and manage information, while health departments can adapt to their specific community.
In Berrien County, Conrad said the health department has set up vaccine clinics in drive-thru format at several community buildings, which means they can choose locations most accessible to community members.
It’s important to have as many vaccination options for people to choose from as possible, said Lisa Peacock, health officer for both the Benzie-Leelanau Health Department and Health Department of Northwest Michigan.
In her districts, health departments have created toolkits for local pharmacies with signs about masks and social distancing, as well as contacts for the local health department, Peacock said.
A day after Betz’s first dose of vaccine, he received an email from his local hospital to set up a vaccine appointment. Betz encourages those looking for a vaccine appointment to sign up everywhere.
“You’re responsible for yourself, don’t sit and wait,” Betz said. “But the good news I think is it’s really opening up.”
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