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Mercy Health working to address disparities in COVID-19 vaccine rollout

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Hospital leaders hope that community-based clinics will eliminate current disparities.

Mercy Health Saint Mary’s says it will hold pop up clinics and make the COVID-19 vaccine more accessible in neighborhood offices to address disparities in dose administration so far. 

The Grand Rapids hospital has administered nearly 22,000 shots and of them 3% have gone to Black residents and 3% to Latinx residents, said Dr. Andrew Jameson during a Wednesday press conference. 

“It is a huge priority,” said Jameson, who is the medical director of infection prevention and control. “It’s a huge priority for the health department and us, and we’re really open about being transparent about what that data is.”

The state is not posting racial and ethnic breakdowns of who is receiving the vaccine, but Lynn Sutfin, a public information officer for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said it would be posted in the “near future.” 

Sutfin said race and ethnicity were added to the Michigan Care Improvement Registry (MCIR), which collects immunization information, ahead of the rollout. 

“A MDHHS development team is currently making modifications to support hand entry of race and ethnicity data in MCIR, as well as linking additional data sets to MCIR data, to improve the data we have in MCIR,” Sutfin said in a statement Wednesday.

Early reports show disparities both in Michigan’s rollout and across the country, Sutfin said the state has been working to make vaccine distribution more equitable as a result. 

“Making use of federal guidelines, the first vaccination phase in Michigan targeted paid and unpaid health care workers, which, given the disparities in the health care worker field, will disadvantage areas with a higher (number of) African American residents,” she said. “This is why the state is using equity lens in allocation strategy, including providing additional doses outside the allocation strategy to enable areas at disadvantage to catch up in vaccination.”

Dr. Jameson said the data is “definitely skewed” because the hospital initially started clinics with health care workers, school districts and law enforcement. 

He said it is now shifting toward targeting zip codes and making the vaccine accessible in the areas most disproportionately impacted by the virus as the hospital vaccinates people 65 years and older. 

The first of the pop up clinics will be held this Saturday at Mercy Health’s Browning Claytor Health Center on Grand Rapids’ southeast side, where several hundred people are scheduled to receive the vaccine. 

The hospital is also planning on scheduling flexible vaccine appointments at Clinica Santa Maria on the southwest side of the city. The clinics will be by appointment only. 

Dr. Karen Kennedy, regional medical director of Mercy Health Physician Partners, says its about meeting underserved populations where they are most comfortable. 

“I’ve even heard even this morning, that although we do have the Devos Clinic and some other clinics open, like the Eerdman Garage, or the Kentwood clinic, that they’d rather get it in their own office with their own staff because they feel very safe there,” Kennedy said.

Supply continues to be a shortfall, the doctors said, as they split doses across a four-pronged approach. At capacity, the hospital’s clinic in a Kentwood office building could vaccinate 7,000 people a day, and the West Michigan Vaccine Clinic (which Mercy Health participates in with Spectrum Health and the county) could vaccinate up to 20,000 per week. 

Mercy Health’s drive thru clinic at Eerdman Garage and the pop up clinics are meant to be smaller scale, but targeted approaches to reach those most vulnerable. 

Kent County Health Department did not have data available yet on who is receiving the shot based on race and ethnicity. A spokesperson for the county said they are working to get that data from area health systems. 

Jameson said using multiple approaches to roll the vaccine out will be crucial, especially with the confirmed presence of the B.1.1.7 variant in Kent County.

RELATED: U.K. COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7 confirmed in Kent County

“It’s really a race to get vaccines in arms, right now, and particularly with some of the news that the variants have been found in Grand Rapids and in many counties throughout the state of Michigan,” he said. 

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