TRAVERSE CITY — Scheduling an appointment to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in northern Michigan isn’t much different than getting tickets to a music festival.
County residents have expressed displeasure in the scheduling process of potentially receiving a vaccine that could save their life.
It comes at the same time the state reported that 21 shipments of the Moderna vaccine were not kept at the right temperature and needed to be re-ordered.
“That frustrates me,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said from Washington, D.C., where she planned to attend President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday.
Locally, two systems used to assess interest and schedule a COVID-19 vaccine led to what the Grand Traverse County Health Department determined to be a misunderstanding.
Ahead of the launch of the Hagerty Center mass vaccination clinic, the health department sought responses from a “pre-registration” form to get what it later said was actually a survey of how many county residents were eligible to receive a vaccine in priority groups 1A and 1B.
Many of the 23,000 who filled out the form, however, believed they would be contacted by the health department to be scheduled for an appointment to receive the vaccine.
That wasn’t what happened.
When the Hagerty Center was announced at a press conference Friday, an email blast went out to everyone who filled out the form shortly after its conclusion. The 1,500 first-dose appointments for the week following filled up quickly.
The link was publically available on the Grand Traverse County COVID-19 website, essentially making it so the 23,000 who filled out the form didn’t have any advantage over someone who could have accessed the link any other way.
All appointments were filled within two hours.
“Unfortunately, once the link is live, regardless if it was sent to someone directly, it is shareable,” said Emmy Schumacher, spokeswoman with the GTCHD.
“We cannot control who uses it to schedule an appointment and cannot turn them away if they fall into the 1A or 1B category.”
Schumacher said appointments will fill up fast until the supply of the vaccine is more abundant. That’s because the GTC Health Department is only opening appointments based on the number of vaccines it receives, not following the lead of others which are scheduling appointments based on the amount of vaccines it expects to receive.
“We understand this can be frustrating for those anxious to get the vaccine,” Schumacher said. “We encourage everyone that is interested in getting a vaccine to check back frequently for availability due to cancellations or for when we open up appointments based on upcoming vaccine shipments from the state.”
Some have criticized Michigan’s broad, first come, first serve strategy of vaccinating those 65 and older and certain essential workers in one priority group.
In some areas of the state, technicians report seeing patients who do not fall under group 1B, but get the vaccine anyway.
Whitmer defended the imperfect process Tuesday multiple times.
Because of the certain logistical concerns over keeping the vaccines at the proper temperature, Whitmer repeatedly said she’d rather have a vaccine in an arm than go unused.
“We just don’t want to risk rendering a vaccine useless because there wasn’t someone in that specific eligible group, and at that date or the time stamp,” Whitmer said. “’We don’t want to waste any vaccines, we can’t afford to.”
On the same day, the state reported that a distributor, McKesson, notified the state that nearly 12,000 Moderna doses that were shipped Sunday were spoiled after getting too cold.
“That’s not something that I could control; it’s not the state of Michigan’s fault,” Whitmer said. “I’m certain that people who had appointments who were scheduled at facilities that were supposed to get those particular shots were frustrated because they weren’t able to get them. That’s part of the bumpy road that is that we’re all experiencing nationwide.”
Replacement doses were sent Monday and Tuesday. The cause is under investigation by McKesson.
Whitmer said she hopes $90 million in federal vaccine funding will bring Michigan closer to its goal of 50,000 shots in arms per day. She hoped to order shots directly from Pfizer to skip the process of being allocated federally.
About 29,000 doses a day were administered last week.