TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City residents can begin to be vaccinated in mass numbers as early as Monday.
The Grand Traverse County Health Department announced a partnership with Northwestern Michigan College Friday to launch a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic at NMC’s Hagerty Center in Traverse City. The facility will begin offering appointments weekly starting this coming Monday until at least April.
“We’re pleased to announce a partnership that we believe will greatly improve our region’s ability to combat COVID-19, to keep our residents safe, and help our community return to normal soon,” said NMC President Nick Nissley.
Wendy Hirschenberger, health officer for the GT County Health Department, said the facility will have a daily throughput equal to what the county is currently doing in a week.
Appointments are added on a weekly basis as the county receives vaccine shipments from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Currently, vaccines are allocated at the federal level to state health departments, which then distributes vaccines to hospitals and health departments.
At 6:22 p.m. Friday, roughly two hours after the launch of the site, there were no available appointments remaining for the week ending in Jan. 22. The health department said in a Facebook post it had 1,500 total doses of vaccine available for the week and those who received email confirmation were successful.
Hirschenberger said when supply does increase — which President-elect Joe Biden unveiled Friday his plan to do so — the county’s goal is to use the location to vaccinate more than 3,000 Grand Traverse County residents each week. The county has currently used 7,000 doses in the last four weeks and has almost 10,000 on hand, according to data from MDHHS.
That’s still shy of the 23,000 residents Hirschenberger said expressed interest in receiving a vaccine just within the last week.
Grand Traverse County Administrator Nate Alger compared the vaccination process to a marathon, but said by opening the Hagerty Center clinic the county is at least starting the race.
“I ask for the patience of our community as we progress through a very complicated vaccination process,” Alger said.
Hirschenberger estimated that it will be a nine to 12 month process until 70 percent of Grand Traverse County residents are vaccinated, the amount experts consider herd immunity. Both vaccines authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the drugs manufactured by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, require two doses to be most effective.
The Hagerty Center is the first of two clinics, with one projected to begin accepting appointments at Howe Arena at the Traverse City Civic Center on Feb. 8.
Alger said the Howe Arena facility will have a similar throughput to the Hagerty Center, which, in perfect-world scenarios, would more than double the rate county residents could receive shots with enough vaccines supplied by the state.
“At its largest point we believe we can get hit 7,000 or more per week when both are operating fully with all staff and we have adequate supplies,” Alger said.
Traverse City Central and Traverse City West high schools both use Howe Arena as their home ice for hockey. The winter high school sports season has been delayed repeatedly by the Michigan High School Athletic Association.
Vaccines will be given by appointment only and are currently available for individuals in priority groups 1A and 1B outlined by MDHHS.
Group 1A is healthcare workers, medical first responders and nursing home residents. Group 1B includes people aged 65 and older and some essential workers such as police officers, first responders, corrections facility staff members, pre-K-12 teachers and homeless shelter staff.
To schedule an appointment, visit www.gtcountycovid19.com/vaccine.
The health department says to check the website daily for an open slot, as more appointments are added as additional vaccines are distributed to the county.