Macomb County health officer talks about vaccine rollout

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published April 2, 2021

WARREN — The last week of March was full of big news for those waiting to get a COVID-19 vaccination in Macomb County.

While much work remains to be done and the situation continues to evolve daily, Andrew Cox, the Macomb County Health Department’s director/health officer, took questions from C&G Newspapers on March 30 about the county’s vaccine rollout.

Cox was with Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, Warren Mayor Jim Fouts and other officials for a press conference announcing plans to open a drive-thru vaccination clinic in the parking structure at Warren’s City Hall on Van Dyke Avenue, north of 12 Mile Road. The announcement was made the day after the county opened its fourth vaccination site, at Majestic Plaza on Van Dyke, south of 12 Mile, in Warren.

Which vaccine is being offered at the Warren City Hall drive-thru vaccine site?
“We’re going to start off with Johnson & Johnson at this site.”

What about at the Majestic Plaza site? How do you determine which vaccines to offer at each of the county-affiliated vaccination locations?
“Right now, it’s a mix. We’ll probably do Pfizer mostly out of that site. We’re hoping to provide another site. You might have heard me say that 16- and 17-year-olds, right now, will have to go to the Verkuilen site (in Clinton Township) for Pfizer. Pfizer’s the only one that can get 16- and 17-year-olds. This site with Johnson & Johnson would be 18 and up. We get a lot of questions because that age group is now eligible, right now, with medical conditions or disabilities. April 5, they’ll be allowed, everyone 16 and up. But we’re having issues with individuals showing up at the wrong clinic that doesn’t have that type of vaccine.”

Logistically, because vaccines have to be stored in different ways, that drives which vaccines you use at different locations also, correct?
“Correct. The storage and handling is sometimes difficult to problematic with Pfizer and Moderna. You can still use it, there’s just steps that you have to go through in terms of thawing and keeping it on-site, and then you can’t refreeze it, too. You’ve got to make sure that you use that. That’s why we use a lot of appointments, to make sure that we kind of have a good idea of how many people are going to come.”

For someone who meets the current eligibility criteria and is trying to schedule a vaccine, who can’t seem to get scheduled right now, what’s the best plan of action?
“Keep trying. We release appointments every single day, at different times. We do that on purpose to make sure that we’re not creating the Tuesday morning rush. We’ve called it ‘Terrific Tuesdays.’ At 8:30 every single week, we would get an onslaught of people. And the problem with that, too, is that it’s only available for individuals that are free during that time frame. We want to give additional opportunities for individuals to get an appointment, so we release it at random times. Sometimes it’s the evening hours, at midnight, in the middle of night. Sometimes it’s during the day. But we release appointments every single day. So keep trying. It is random. We release doses. We know how many slots. We put that out there and then it’s first come, first served. We do know that they’re going very fast.”
Would you say at this point, as far as being able to get an appointment and being able to get vaccinated, that someone’s ability to do that is only limited by their own patience with the system and the number of doses you get at the county?
“For sure. We still are ... we’ve seen an increase, which is good. We’re grateful for that. We’ve seen an increase in vaccines. We still have a ways to go. We have a large population. When you look at it, we have hundreds of thousands of people that fall in these now open priority groups that we want to get vaccinated. We know there’s a ton of demand out there. We ask people to stay patient. We want you to get on multiple lists, whether it’s through a pharmacy, check with Meijer, Kroger, Rite Aid, CVS, all of those, plus healthcare systems, as well, are still vaccinating. We want individuals to get it wherever they can. We also have the Ford Field site, too, that is scheduling thorough Meijer. That’s another option for those that have transportation who want to go down to Ford Field to get vaccinated, as well.”

As the county’s health officer, what would you say to those who are hesitant to take the vaccine?  
“Do you know what we’ve seen? We’ve actually seen progress. We’ve seen individuals at the start of this, we started vaccinating at the end of December, Dec. 18, that number was far more. Now we’re seeing individuals that were on the fence, that wanted to see if it truly is a safe and effective vaccine, which it is, all three are. We’re seeing some of those individuals now starting to sign up, and we’re seeing that tide change now where more individuals are getting vaccinated, which is a good thing. I think we break through that with education and talking about it, and going to reputable sources. I would advise people to stay off social media and using that as sources. There’s a lot of misinformation out there still about vaccines and myths. We’ve also done some town halls for communities to also educate them and answer questions honestly. There are minor reactions. That’s possible with any kind of medication or vaccine. So we want to put those numbers out there and be honest, and let people make their own decisions, and that’s what I’d encourage people to do.”

Some people say the vaccine has been politicized. Knowing that Macomb County has a reputation for being a political bellwether, could it end up being a vaccine bellwether if enough people choose not to get vaccinated?
"It’s hard to predict those things. You never know what the prediction is. I will say that I know with these sites coming online in these different communities, it shows that we’re all in it together. We are really behind this. The communities want to support it. We’ve got sites in more of our rural areas, in the northern end. We’ve got Richmond-Lennox, we’re working on additional sites there. We’ve got sites down in the south end and we’ve got them in the center part of the county, and so I think we’re all seeing everyone come together. I’ve seen faith-based organizations, community organizers. We’re all trying to do the same thing and I really see in that sense, I see promise there and a silver lining that we’re all trying to achieve the same goal, and that’s to get people vaccinated.”

Your objective assessment: How’s the county doing with the vaccine rollout?
“I have to say, I’m so proud of our folks, and all the folks, health care, as well. Health care, local public health, we’ve been dealing with this pandemic since the beginning because we were doing contact tracing. We still are doing that. We started doing testing. We’re still doing testing. And that’s important that we continue to do testing and offer testing. Now we’re doing vaccination clinics, so really over a year, our staff has worked tirelessly. They’re tired, but you know what? Every single person creates confidence and a morale boost. They’re seeing all these people getting vaccinated, and we’ve heard nothing but good things. That’s what keeps us going.”