GRAND RAPIDS — Spectrum Health vaccinated its first medical staff today hours after receiving the first doses from Pfizer Inc., ushering in what President and CEO Tina Freese Decker called the “next chapter in our fight against COVID-19.”
The largest health system in West Michigan with 14 hospitals across the region, Spectrum Health expects to initially receive 5,000 doses this week of the Pfizer vaccine that will first go to hospital workers and nursing homes. The vaccine will then go to essential workers in critical industries, people over 65 years old or with illness that puts them at high risk, and eventually the general public by the spring.
“It was momentous to see this happen for the first time. We’re making history right now. And so as we all watch this occur, it’s amazing,” Decker said during an afternoon media briefing. “It gives such hope to know what’s coming in 2021.”
Pfizer began shipping the vaccine Sunday from its production facility in Kalamazoo. A vaccine developed by Moderna Inc. is scheduled for U.S. Food and Drug Administration review this week for emergency use authorization.
Staff at both Spectrum Health’s Butterworth Hospital and Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor were among the first in the state to get vaccinated today. Other Michigan hospitals and medical centers across the state will begin receiving the vaccine later this week.
“The significant impact of COVID-19 has led to unprecedented, worldwide collaboration among scientists, medical doctors, health and government officials, and manufacturers,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement.
“The arrival of this vaccine in Michigan signals that the end of this pandemic is near. However, it will take several months before we are able to have enough vaccine to widely distribute it to the general population,” Khaldun added. “Until then, and even for individuals who receive the vaccine, we should all be doing our part to slow the spread of this virus by wearing masks, avoiding large gatherings, and washing hands.”
Spectrum Health received its first 975 doses this morning and vaccinated five employees in what West Michigan President Dr. Daryll Elmouchi called a “trial run.” Vaccinations among medical staff will ramp up “much more broadly” and “rapidly accelerate the amount of vaccines we can give” starting Tuesday, Elmouhci said.
Spectrum Health expects to go through the first 5,000 doses by next week and will not require staff to get vaccinated, but is “strongly recommending it,” he said.
The Grand Rapids-based health system has the ability to administer 6,000 vaccine doses a week to staff and “and if need be we can scale that up,” Elmouhci said. All of the health system’s regional hospitals should receive the vaccine within one to two weeks, he said.
As the pandemic that has sickened millions nationally and killed nearly 300,000 people, including 10,725 people in Michigan as of Monday, pushed hospitals to capacity and stressed medical staff to their limits, Elmouchi called holding the first doses of the vaccine this morning a “spiritual moment.”
“It felt like a spiritual moment for me personally, just holding on to what really is hope for all of humanity,” he said.
Dr. Marc McClelland, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Spectrum Health, said he felt “unbelievably grateful to have the opportunity to receive the vaccine” when he was vaccinated shortly after noon today.
“This is super exciting,” McLelland said. “I feel hopeful. This is hopefully the start of the next and chapter in this journey. I’m looking forward to when this can get rolled out to everybody else in the community, having cared for COVID patients all these past several months.”
As the first vaccines are administered across the state, “Michigan is now on course to move out of the darkness of pandemic to economic and public health recovery,” Michigan Health & Hospital Association CEO Brian Peters said in a statement.
As the vaccine becomes more widely available in the months ahead, Spectrum Health and others plan to ramp up communications urging people to get vaccinated.
“We have a full plan to communicate about the vaccine (and) about the process of how to go about it when it’s available for the public,” Freese Decker said.
Most infectious disease experts have estimated that 70 percent of the population, and “potentially up to 80 percent,” will need to get vaccinated to create so-called “herd immunity,” Elmouchi said.
“That’s something that obviously over the course of the year, if there’s enough vaccine, we really hope happens,” Elmouhci said.
In a poll released early this month by the Pew Research Center, 60 percent of respondents said they would get vaccinated. The result from the November poll was up from 51 percent in September.