Health department, county officials attempt to tackle vaccine shortage



GENESEE COUNTY — As COVID- 19 vaccination ramps up across the state, the Genesee County Health Department (GCDH) wants to make sure that more vaccines become readily available for county residents.

At a press conference held on Jan. 13, officials said that the county is facing a major shortage of COVID-19 vaccines. Despite having the fourth highest death total among the state’s 83 counties, Genesee County is receiving a little under 1,000 vaccines per week and is the sixth lowest recipient of vaccines in the state.

In response to the shortage, a coalition of local state representatives turned to the state to ask for more vaccines. Following a request from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the United States Department of Health and Human Services has granted the delivery of 3,000 additional vaccines for Genesee County.

Although it is mainly focusing on vaccinating frontline healthcare workers and individuals living in nursing homes or assisted living facilities (phase 1A of distribution), the GCHD is now transitioning to include vaccinations for phase 1B, which includes people 65 years of age and older and essential workers such as teachers, childcare workers and first responders.

Dr. Pamela Hackert, Medical Health Officer for Genesee County, said that the additional vaccines should be on the way by next week—helping the county to reach its vaccination targets.

“We are working toward a goal of 75 percent of all vaccines going to people 65 and up,” she said. “The remaining 25 percent will go to critical workers in phase 1B.”

Hackert said that the county has recently switched from receiving the Moderna vaccine to the Pfizer vaccine, which requires colder temperatures for storage but is more readily available to the public. She said the switch in vaccine types will make it easier for the county to reach the 150,000 people who are currently eligible to receive the vaccine under phase 1B.

With vaccines in short supply, eligible residents will have to make appointments with the GCHD to receive a vaccine. To simplify the process, Genesee County government has added a revamped vaccine pre-registration link to its website homepage. Residents who are in line for vaccination will also receive an automatically generated email message from the health department when a vaccine becomes available for them.

Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson said that his department, in tandem with the GCHD, will be working to make vaccines more accessible to eligible residents who can’t travel to get vaccinated or don’t have access the internet.

“We’ll have mobile labs where we can go to people who are homebound, people that struggle with the English language… people in different group homes,” he said. “We certainly won’t let a single vial of the vaccine sit on the desk.”

Senior citizens can also contact the Valley Area Agency on Aging or their local senior center to receive information on vaccine availability. Residents in the 80-plus age category will be at the top of the county’s vaccination priorities for phase 1B until the GCHD receives more vaccines.

To register for a vaccine appointment, visit gc4me.com. To see more vaccine information, visit the Genesee County Health Department’s website at gchd.us.

The health department and local emergency managers will hold another press conference on Jan. 26 to keep the public updated about vaccine availability.