VINEYARD VACCINES (copy)

Alex Lavake, far left, and Jenifer Calderon, of Northwest Michigan Health Services (NMHSI), administer COVID-19 vaccines to Irma Fernandez, front, and her husband, Alvaro Mauricio Diaz, during a pop-up COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Chateau Chantal on Old Mission Peninsula.

TRAVERSE CITY — Those who have COVID-19 can now get monoclonal antibody treatment through Munson Healthcare without a referral from a doctor.

Patients who do not have a primary care physician can now self-refer for the treatment, said Bonnie Kruszka, vice president and chief nursing officer for Ambulatory Services.

The outpatient treatment that must be given within 10 days of the onset of COVID symptoms has been shown to reduce severe illness and hospitalization for those who are high risk, including people with kidney disease, diabetes or obesity.

Monoclonal antibody treatment, which works by mimicking the body’s immune system is for non-hospitalized people 12 years old and older and who weigh at least 88 pounds, Kruszka said. It is offered at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, as well as in Munson hospitals in Cadillac, Kalkaska and Grayling.

Munson has been giving the treatment for about four months and in that time has administered 66 intravenous infusions, Kruszka said. The infusion itself takes about 30 minutes, though a patient can expect to be at the the hospital for about three hours, which includes an hour of observation after treatment.

A nurse will call and see how the patient is doing one day and 10 days after treatment, Kruszka said.

“We’re getting really good anecdotal stories of feeling better, especially turning the corner at around day four,” she said. “Anecdotal stories from people who have received the treatment and feel as though it worked for them.”

At Munson’s COVID-19 press conference, which is now being held every other Tuesday morning, Dr. Christine Nefcy said the two-week average positivity rate is at 1.7 percent — well below the nearly 18 percent seen earlier this year. On Tuesday there were eight people hospitalized with COVID across the Munson system, with seven of them at MMC.

The lower number of cases can be directly attributed to the vaccine, Nefcy said. But 25 cases of the delta variant found in five downstate Michigan counties is a reason to continue to encourage people to get vaccinated, she said.

It is highly contagious, as well as much more likely to cause hospitalization, Nefcy said. Vaccine efficacy is reduced by up to 6 percent against the variant, but is still good, she said.

Variants are now being identified using the NATO phonetic alphabet rather than the place where they were first identified, Nefcy said. The delta variant has multiple mutations and is responsible for about 10 percent of new cases in the U.S. and about 90 percent of new cases in the U.K.

The Centers for Disease Control has called it a ‘variant of concern,’ which means it has increased transmissibility; causes more severe disease, including hospitalization or death; and reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines.

According to the Michigan COVID-19 Vaccine Dashboard, Leelanau County continues to top the state with 75 percent of residents having had at least one dose. In Grand Traverse County that number is about 68 percent, in Benzie 64 percent and in Antrim 58 percent.

Kalkaska County’s rate at about 48 percent lags behind the state’s rate of 56 percent coverage.

As of Tuesday, the state has lifted mask and other mandates in non-healthcare work settings. Employers are now allowed to use their judgement in deciding whether to require face coverings, social distancing and daily health screenings.

Wendy Hirschenberger, health officer and director for the Grand Traverse County Health Department, said the loosening of mask restrictions is causing some confusion.

“If you feel better wearing a mask, wear a mask,” Hirschenberger said. “Protect yourself. Moving forward we’re going to see a mix of people wearing masks, even those who are fully vaccinated.”

At Munson the mask policy is still in place, even if someone is fully vaccinated.

“That is really for the protection of our patients and it’s for our staff, who are around a lot of high-risk people,” Nefcy said.

Beginning this week, the Grand Traverse County Health Department is offering a flexible window of time when a person can come back and get their second dose of the vaccine. People are given a “window slip” that allows them to choose the day and time of their second dose, as long as it falls within a timeframe outlined by the health department.

They don’t need an appointment, as almost all of those getting vaccinated are now walk-ins, Hirschenberger said. The department is using the Pfizer vaccine, which can be given to those 12 and older, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“Whatever is convenient for people based on our clinic schedule — the time that works for them will also work for us,” she said.

The J & J vaccine will be offered at several clinics scheduled to take place from July 6-10 at the National Cherry Festival. Those interested should check the GTCHD website for times.

The Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department and the Health Department of Northwest Michigan is offering all three vaccines at all of their clinics. Health Officer Lisa Peacock said the focus is now on reducing barriers for those who want the vaccine.

“We are really focusing on the 12- to 19-year-old population,” Peacock said. “We want parents to know that they can get their kids vaccinated now to be ready for the start of school and the start of sports. We know that this is the key to not having cases in that population in the fall and not having outbreaks and quarantines that are very disruptive for the activities kids are participating in.”

District Health Department No. 10 is also offering all three vaccines. Jennifer Morse, medical director for DHD10, said that starting in July the COVID vaccine will be integrated into the normal vaccine clinics and people will be able to make an appointment to get it just as they would to get other types of vaccines.

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