Vaccine strategies injected into Sterling

Senior center becomes vax site, former Sears site to follow

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published March 5, 2021

 A SMART shuttle bus brings Macomb County residents to the Sterling Heights Senior Center vaccination center March 4.

A SMART shuttle bus brings Macomb County residents to the Sterling Heights Senior Center vaccination center March 4.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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STERLING HEIGHTS — The Sterling Heights Senior Center has now become a COVID-19 vaccination center.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and other county officials visited Sterling Heights Feb. 24 to announce the Macomb County Health Department’s partnership with Sterling Heights to offer more distribution options for the COVID-19 vaccine.

That partnership turned the Sterling Heights Senior Center, located at 40200 Utica Road, into a vaccination station starting the week of March 1.

Hackel said Sterling Heights has been an incredible partner on many different fronts, including its public safety staff. Macomb County Health Department Director Andrew Cox agreed.

“It’s hard to believe that all of this can happen in such a short time,” Cox said. “This is going to be a great resource. ... I’m truly proud of the partnership between the Health Department and Sterling Heights.”

Sterling Heights city officials said the vaccination schedule is currently in an overlap of phases 1B and 1C, and they are still trying to get older adults vaccinated. At the time of Hackel’s visit, he said Macomb County residents 60 or older may get the shots. In early March, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said residents 50 or older with certain health issues would soon be eligible for the shot March 8, followed by all residents 50 and older March 22.   

Once the vaccination schedule’s phase two starts, anyone 16 or older who wasn’t already eligible could be vaccinated.

Hackel said the Sterling Heights Senior Center’s shots will be available by appointment for qualified Macomb County residents.

“Seniors shouldn’t have to wait,” Hackel added. “They should be on the front of the line.”

According to officials, the senior center site will only vaccinate according to scheduled appointments and will not accept walk-in traffic. A statement from Sterling Heights clarified that, despite many incoming calls, the city is not in charge of accepting or arranging senior center vaccine appointments.

Those who are seeking appointments for vaccinations at this time may call the Macomb County Health Department, as well as other health care providers, to secure an appointment, city officials said.

Through a partnership with the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation, SMART Macomb is taking a wait list of people who need the vaccine, with a free-ride option to those who couldn’t otherwise get to the vaccination center.

People may get on the list by emailing a name, date of birth, address and phone number to macombvaccine@smartbus.org, or by calling the vaccine line at (586) 421-6579. County workers will go through the list and call back people on it to arrange appointments.

At the press conference, Ed Miller, Sterling Heights’ then-interim fire chief, said Fire Department paramedics will be helping to administer the vaccine.

“It was like, when can we do it?” Miller said. “We look forward to opening this up. We are ready for it.”


Drive-thru option rolling this way
Besides the senior center, Sterling Heights city officials are excited with their arrangement for an additional future vaccination venue.

On Feb. 16, the Sterling Heights City Council unanimously approved in its consent agenda the city getting a lease for the property that used to be the Lakeside Mall Sears auto service center, located at 14100 Lakeside Circle.

The goal is to eventually let residents enter a drive-thru to get the COVID-19 vaccine while still in their vehicles. In February, Sterling Heights City Manager Mark Vanderpool said the lease would be good at least through July 1 and could be renewed twice for a six-month maximum extension. The lease reportedly lets the city rent the place for $5,500 a month. Vanderpool said the city should be able to refund the costs through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Vanderpool said the city’s lease only opens the old Sears site up to city residents. However, he said the city could arrange interlocal agreements or agreements with other partners, such as if Macomb County were to want to vaccinate people there who qualify under phases 1B or 1C.

Vanderpool added that while the state has been counting on phase two to begin by June or July, the federal government has signaled that phase two could start as soon as April. During phase two, local health departments will stop administering the vaccine, and private hospitals, pharmacies and other providers will take over, Vanderpool said.

On March 2, Vanderpool announced that the city has applied via the MDHHS to directly acquire vaccine doses as a city.

“Now, obviously, to date, only certified health departments, hospitals, Walgreens and a couple of other providers have been approved, so we will be, if not the first, one of the first cities in the state to actually be able to receive vaccines,” he said.

“And we also, in order to do that, we had to set up a partnership with Beaumont Health System to actually store the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines in cold storage to meet that protocol with the state.”  

He said the city is currently checking or improving the leased facility’s paint, plumbing, ventilation system and bathrooms to make sure it’ll be ready for visitors. Vanderpool predicted that the old Sears site will do hundreds of vaccinations per day, perhaps even a thousand, depending on the number of workers present.

“We got a great deal on the lease, so I’m not aware of any other light drive-thru facilities like this in the region,” he said. “We’re working on it daily to get it ready to open in a few weeks, but we’re also working on a partnership with a health provider that will help us operate the vaccination center.”

However, Vanderpool said the facility should have its work done in a few weeks, but since the state is not at phase two’s mass vaccination yet, he didn’t want to set a false expectation that that’s when it necessarily would open to the public.

“However, it’s conceivable even before phase two that the site may be activated through a partnership with the county, or as I mentioned, another health care provider or another partner,” he said.


Other city officials react
At the March 2 City Council meeting, Councilwoman Barbara Ziarko said she couldn’t say enough about the new vaccination center at the senior center. She said now that she has had her two doses, she wants to volunteer at the site.

“I was just so impressed with the operations, the paramedics that were there giving the vaccinations,” she said. “When I was there, everybody was so accommodating (and) courteous, and everyone was saying they were so glad that it was in the city because it made it so much easier for them to get their vaccination.”

Vanderpool said the senior center is currently handling about 100 vaccinations per day, and he praised it for being organized and run “like a well-oiled machine.”

Councilman Michael Radtke praised city officials and said the senior center vaccination site plus the upcoming Lakeside Mall one have made Sterling Heights a trendsetter.

“Sterling Heights has moved as fast as we possibly can to help our residents reach vaccines,” Radtke said.

Radtke added that the city has gotten calls and messages asking where and when residents can be vaccinated.

“Rest assured, everyone at home: We are working as quickly as possible to get the vaccine out to as many people as possible,” he said.

Find out more about Sterling Heights by visiting www.sterling-heights.net or by calling (586) 446-2489. Find out more about Macomb County’s COVID-19 efforts by visiting government.ma combgov.org/vaccinecentral.

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