Spectrum Health is starting delivering vaccines for COVID-19 by appointment only.

The health care provider stated it is launching vaccine clinics in Grand Rapids, Greenville, Hastings and Zeeland this week, but clinics were not planned for Ludington — yet.

“We are standing up clinics over our regional hospitals over this week and next week,” said Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, president of Spectrum Health West Michigan. “We’re also working very closely with all local health departments and other health systems on mobile clinics. These are very specific, where we can target populations that are underserved and may not have access to the electronic means that we’re scheduling appointments (with) now.

“We hope to open our first next Monday, on Martin Luther King Day. There has been an immense effort and, ultimately, our goal is to vaccinate as many people as possible. The only limitation over the coming weeks will be vaccine allotment to the state, and ultimately to us.”

Elmouchi said speed and safety were Spectrum Health’s priorities in opening vaccination clinics.

“That’s what came up with the first clinic in the Grand Rapids area. We know we can scale this to what we believe to be about 2,500 doses per day in that clinic. Our goal is to have clinics like that to do huge volumes and then geographic dispersion so we’re not making people drive 60 miles to get a vaccine,” he said. “For our regionals, we were looking at sites where we can safely deliver this.”

Elmouchi said a lack of transportation is also a factor that is weighing into the mobile vaccination clinics that are being proposed.

“We are working with all of our local health departments to determine the best location,” he said. “We hope to start advertising at least one or more of them maybe by the end of the week or the start of next week as we ramp up and open this.”

He pleaded for patience as Spectrum Health works to increase its volume of vaccinations.

The first clinic was opened at 6 a.m. Monday in Grand Rapids on 60th Street. Elmouchi said there were scheduled to be 1,800 vaccinations given on Monday with the ability to have more than 2,300 per day. He said there are about 500 people within the first phase who needed to receive vaccines, and Spectrum Health is working to vaccinate thousands of others this week.

Elmouchi said as of Monday Spectrum Health has 20,000 doses of the vaccine on hand with 11,000 appointments scheduled. Work is being done to ensure doses aren’t wasted, but he said there is no measure in place to prevent people from scheduling appointments for the vaccine in multiple places.

“If that does happen, the risk we run is we have slots that end up going unused. We can end up using that vaccine, I assure you, for the remaining patients. The more people that miss appointments, the longer it takes to get to the rest of the population,” he said. “I’m hopeful, but we have no mechanism to prevent that.”

Elmouchi said there is a banner at the top of the Spectrum Health website to get instructions on how to make an appointment through the healthcare provider’s Spectrum Health MyCare application. A survey is taken, and the patient seeking the vaccine will receive an electronic notification that they can schedule an appointment.

“I ask people to have patience because the demand is incredibly high and we’re doing our best. Not everyone will get a vaccine this week,” he said.

Essential workers, such as teachers and others as determined by the state, should work through their employers to schedule a vaccine, the Spectrum Health stated in a release.

Tina Freese Decker, president and CEO of Spectrum Health, said the healthcare provider has started vaccinations for COVID-19 in Phase 1B of the state’s distribution plan.

“I am incredibly proud of our team for their agility and ability to scale up this vaccine distribution. We are also very thankful for the collaboration we’ve had among other health systems and health departments to operationalize these solutions in very short order,” Freese Decker said.

She noted that the healthcare provider is only scheduling appointments for vaccines that it has on-hand, and it is still vaccinating people identified in Phase A1 of the state’s plan. At Spectrum, 75 percent of its staff wants the vaccine, and second doses are being given out to some to complete the two-dose vaccine.

The healthcare system has also seen fewer patients, and Freese Decker described it as a plateau.

“We’re hoping that it continues to decrease. We’re optimistic that there won’t be a post-holiday surge,” she said.

Freese Decker also addressed the new strain of the coronavirus. She said it is just as fatal as what experts have seen, and more contagious than the initial strain.

The Managing Editor for the Ludington Daily News since June 2018 and on the staff since Oct. 2011, taking over for legendary Lloyd Wallace. Previously with The Chippewa Herald in Chippewa Falls, Wis., and the Tuscola County Advertiser in Caro.

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