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Demand on the Rise for COVID-19 Vaccine in Michigan

A booster for the Pfizer vaccine was given emergency approval last month for people who are 65 or older, those 18-64 who are at high risk of severe COVID or whose on-the-job or institutional exposure puts them at high risk.

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(TNS) - As demand for the COVID-19 vaccine goes up, area health departments are going back to scheduling appointments rather than leaving clinics open for walk-ins.

The Grand Traverse County Health Department changed its protocol about two weeks ago, said Director Wendy Hirschenberger.

"After the approval of the booster we started to see an increase in demand," Hirschenberger said. "As a whole it's a positive feeling to see the numbers continue to increase for vaccination."

Clinics are now hosted more often at the Cherryland Mall — five days per week rather than two. At the same time testing has been decreased from five days to two at the department's location on Lafranier Road.

The demand for testing increased when the delta variant had cases on the rise in the Grand Traverse region. Hirschenberger said the health department keeps a close eye on that demand for both testing and vaccines and makes adjustments to the weekly schedule as needed.

The department has relied on Honu Management Group to provide surge staffing throughout the pandemic, with the company called in last week, Hirschenberger said.

The Health Department of Northwest Michigan and the Benzie Leelanau District Health Department are also asking for people to go online or call their toll-free phone line to make an appointment because of the demand.

"We are very pleased with the increased interest in getting vaccinated against the coronavirus — either due to the more rapidly spreading Delta variant or to receive a booster or third shot — and we are no longer able to accommodate walk-ins at our clinics," Lisa Peacock, health officer for both departments said in a press release.

Clinics need to have the right balance of staff and vaccines to accommodate requests, Peacock said.

A booster for the Pfizer vaccine was given emergency approval last month for people who are 65 or older, those 18-64 who are at high risk of severe COVID-19 or whose on-the-job or institutional exposure puts them at high risk for the disease. The booster is only available for those who received the Pfizer two-dose series and is given at least six months after the second dose.

A third dose is available for those who are immunosuppressed because of underlying health conditions, or are on immune-suppressing medications. It is for those who received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine and can be given 28 days after the second dose.

No booster is available for the J&J vaccine, though trials have been conducted and the Food and Drug Administration is set to look at that data in mid-October.

Most clinics in northern Michigan have all three vaccines available, though the demand has been high for the Pfizer booster, Hirschenberger said.

On Tuesday there were 57 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 across the Munson Healthcare system, with 31 of them at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, a slight decrease from last week.

The GTCHD is reporting a seven-day average of 36 cases, with 42 new cases identified Tuesday.

In Grand Traverse County, 69 percent of people 12 and older are fully vaccinated — making it the second highest in the state. The No. 1 spot still belongs to Leelanau County, with about 77 percent of those older than 12 fully vaccinated.

"So we're doing really well," Hirschenberger said.

With school back in full swing the GTCHD is responsible for all contact tracing and notification of close contacts of those testing positive for the virus. Traverse City Area Public Schools notifies the health department when a student or staff member tests positive.

Health department staff lets individuals know whether they should isolate, which is when they test positive, or whether they should quarantine, which is when they've had close contact with someone who tested positive.

Last year, before the vaccine was available, there was a one-size-fits-all approach to schools and the virus, Hirschenberger said. This year things are different because there is no statewide order and there is a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated kids, with some schools requiring students to wear masks and others not, she said.

The state has recommendations on its website, she said, but they are complex and multi-layered. One recommendation calls for unvaccinated students who were in close contact with a positive student to get tested for seven days in a row and to monitor symptoms for two weeks.

Hirschenberger said the health department tries to accommodate students who need testing. There are also home test kits, but those run about $25 for two tests and not all families can afford them, she said.

Most students are testing on the seventh day and if it is negative, returning to school on the eighth day, she said.

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