Andrew Cox, division director of environmental health within the Macomb County Health Department, stands aside ultra-cold freezers stored at the Verkuilen Building for COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

Andrew Cox, division director of environmental health within the Macomb County Health Department, stands aside ultra-cold freezers stored at the Verkuilen Building for COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

Photo by Deb Jacques


COVID-19 vaccine distribution site ‘ready to rock’

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published December 15, 2020

 There are approximately 40 stations that can inoculate individuals simultaneously.

There are approximately 40 stations that can inoculate individuals simultaneously.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — The Verkuilen Building in Clinton Township has been transformed to help combat one of the largest public health emergencies in the nation’s history.

The spacious building, located on Dunham Road and right down the street from the Macomb County Jail, includes 40 vaccination stations that will immunize various members of the public throughout the course of the next few months.

Each station features basic sterilization equipment, such as hand sanitizers, and adheres to common social distancing guidelines. Lines are roped off and extend across different rooms.

The building formerly housed the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which has since moved to Gratiot Avenue.

Andrew Cox, division director of environmental health within the Macomb County Health Department, said the county had looked at the vacated space as a long-term site for future potential health operations.

When the building became free for use, he said it made sense to be the home for a mass vaccination operation.

“This has been in the works for weeks,” he said Dec. 14 inside the transformed building. “The planning has occurred over the last few months; we knew the vaccines were potentially going to be here. And here we are, ready to rock.”

The first allocation was expected to be received the week of Dec. 13, with Cox estimating up to 2,000 vaccines being present at the building by week’s end.

Frontline workers composed the first group of the tiered beneficiaries of the vaccine, including about 1,800 county EMS employees. He said not every individual would receive the vaccine at the same time, which allows for time staggering while not interrupting their normal duties.

“The big challenge compared to H1N1 is how easily this virus can spread, so really limiting the amount of gathering and amount of people in the space was critical,” Cox said. “Coming up with a site that has a large open area, a large open space, is something we needed to plan for.”

As of Dec. 14, the county was in possession of three ultra-cold freezers to properly store the vaccines. They were in the process of acquiring two more freezers.

Each freezer cost approximately between $12,000 and $15,000, with money acquired via federal CARES Act funding. There are security personnel and law enforcement working in cohesion with the county to protect the freezers and their future contents.

Cox said the county is hoping to roll out a marketing campaign to encourage members of the public to get inoculated.

“There’s not going to be any kind of mandate,” he said. “Our process is really to educate people … on the benefits of getting these vaccines, and the protection it could bring to our population.”

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said Dec. 14 that the county has coordinated COVID-19 efforts with every municipality within the county. For months that has involved getting a true understanding of the effects of the virus and its true impact on communities.

Stockpiling personal protective equipment was “a huge component” in managing the ongoing situation, he said, adding that he believes most citizens are wearing masks, saying, “I’ve got to believe most people are part of the solution.”

“A lot went into this and now we’re in this stage of vaccination,” Hackel continued. “None of that has gone away; we’re still dealing with all those issues because right now we know community spread is there. It’s not going to go away overnight just because there is vaccination and some people are probably going to elect to take it.”

While “everyone would like to wish it away,” Hackel said the goal is to continue to do more and aid healthcare systems that are stressed from more hospitalizations.

He added that there is more testing than ever before and that percentages are “much less” than what they were in April, at the onset of the pandemic.

“The outreach and our connectivity to the hospitals and school systems has been on a regular, consistent basis. Communication is key,” he said. “As long as people have true understanding, I think it kind of softens the complaints and concerns.

“You get to find other people who want to be part of the solution and you come up with other creative ways to figure out how to manage through some of this. From my perspective, I’ve got the right people in the right places.”

The county is attempting to secure more funding mechanisms from the state to sustain vaccination and testing efforts. Hackel said the county budget has money set aside, but not the “substantial” amount required.

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