More than 2.5 million people in the state have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
On April 5, all Michiganders 16 and older will be eligible to get their shot.
WKAR put the call out for what listeners wanted to know about the vaccine and the ongoing pandemic.
Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel joined WKAR’s Sophia Saliby to answer those questions.
Our Listeners’ Biggest Questions
On The Best Way To Find A Vaccine Appointment
Start by going to the state department website’s vaccine tab. That will give you information about vaccine locations across the state. It's also recommended to go directly to your local health department website and get on their waiting list, so that when they are ready and have a spot available, they can contact you to make an appointment. If you live in Ingham County, you can register with the health department. Once you get an email with an appointment link, you have a vaccine available for you. You can also register at pharmacies like Meijer, or Rite Aid.
On If It’s Possible For Homebound Patients To Receive A Vaccine At Home
In Mid-Michigan, many homebound people can schedule a ride with CATA, EATRAN, or Clinton Transit to take them to their appointment. Aside from that, the Ingham County Health Department does do strike team visits and pop-up clinics. If you're homebound and have some sort of home health system, connect with them. They can work with the health department to get you a vaccine.
On Addressing Vaccine Skepticism And Possible Adverse Reactions
As far as severe adverse reactions, health experts know that they're rare. Mass vaccination clinics always have paramedics on site. Vaccination sites have all the things that it takes to take care of somebody who has a severe reaction. The vaccines have very little in them that people tend to react to like iodine, thimerosal or egg components. The FDA continues to have a very high standard to bring these sorts of vaccines to the market even under an emergency use authorization. Additional studies conducted by the CDC continue to demonstrate the efficacy in real world environments. So, health agencies know that they are safe and effective.
On How Safe Is It To Gather With Others After One Vaccine Dose
Even when gathering after some people have been partially vaccinated [and] others fully vaccinated, until that entire group has been fully vaccinated, public health officials still encourage mask wearing and social distancing to ensure the minimal risk of transmission of COVID-19 among that group.
On What The Future Might Look Like If There Are Communities That Refuse To Vaccinate
As more Michiganders get vaccinated, the state wants to ensure that there will be community-level immunity. In the case of any vaccine, there certainly will be people who are unable to be vaccinated based on their own medical conditions. But relying on the broader portion of the population to be vaccinated will help guarantee that we've got that community level immunity. State and local health departments continue to work with different populations in different communities to make sure people understand that the vaccine is safe and effective, and that those health officials are here to help administer that and get the vaccine into their communities.
On If The COVID-19 Vaccine Will Become Something Like A Yearly Flu Shot
Scientists are still doing research on consistent immunity or waning immunity when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccines. There is not enough research to know whether the vaccine could become a yearly shot or something people get every two or three years.
Sophia Saliby: This is WKAR Special News Coverage. I'm Sophia Saliby. You're listening to “Your COVID Vaccine Questions Answered.”
In the past week, we put out the call for what you wanted to know about the vaccine and the ongoing pandemic.
Joining me to help answer your questions is Ingham County Health Officer, Linda Vail and state Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel. Thank you both for joining me.
I want to start with questions about just getting the vaccine now that eligibility is opening up. So, Abby M. in East Lansing asks what is the best way to find a COVID vaccination site once you're eligible? Elizabeth, why don't you take this first one.
Elizabeth Hertel: I recommend going to the state department website, michigan.gov/coronavirus, to our vaccine tab. That will give you information about vaccine locations across the state. I also would recommend going directly to your local health department website and getting on their waiting list, so that when they are ready and have a spot available, they can contact you to make an appointment. I think we have a lot of new access points opening up, and so there are many ways to get on a list to get an appointment to get vaccinated in Michigan.
Saliby: Along with that, Linnea F. in Lansing is wondering about how to sign up to be notified when appointments are available, where to go?
Linda Vail: Well, you know as Director Hertel mentioned the state does have a website that kind of warehouses all of it. You know if you live in Ingham County, I do recommend that you register with the health department. You can do that at hd.ingham.org. Click on our coronavirus tab, that will take you to a registration.
You can register at Meijer, you can register at Rite Aid. Actually, I think you just have to get appointments at Rite Aid, but there are a number of different places. And the way you do that really is just put your name in there. Once you're in there, you're registered. Once we send you an email with an appointment link, you have a vaccine available for you.
It's not a need to scramble to grab that appointment. That appointment, that vaccine, is available to you when we send you a scheduling link, so it's a matter of just then waiting for that.
Saliby: Anna J. asked if it is all possible to make appointments for specific vaccines. She says she thinks the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would be best for her son who has some anaphylactic food allergies. Elizabeth, is there any way you can make a specific appointment?
Hertel: We have not been encouraging people to make appointments for specific vaccines, because we are still unsure from week to week on the quantity of each of the types of vaccines that we are getting. We know that we have a number of additional Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna coming in next week and hopefully, in the continuing weeks. But I would encourage her to speak to her doctor about her son's needs and see if there's a way to identify a place where they could get a vaccine that is most appropriate for him.
Saliby: Russell H. in East Lansing wants to know can homebound patients—when can they expect to get a vaccine provided at their residence?
Vail: One of the things we're doing, and this doesn't completely answer the resident’s question, but a lot of our homebound people are able to schedule a ride with CATA or EATRAN or Clinton Transit. They have a lot of specialized vehicles. I had them transport an individual that was end-stage Parkinson’s disease that only got home via an ambulance, but CATA was able to transport them to an appointment. So, in terms of expediency, probably the fastest way for somebody homebound is to do that.
Now aside from that, we do get out, and we do strike team visits, pop-up clinics, those types of things. At special housing complexes and those sorts of things, we get our homebound people there.
The next thing I would suggest is, if you're homebound in terms of a health need, you probably have home health in some way shape or form, either through one of our local health systems or some other home health. Connect with them, so that they can connect with us, in order to make sure that we have a way to get that vaccine.
Saliby: There is skepticism among some Michiganders about getting the vaccine, as well as concerns about what happens after you get it.
Amanda B. in East Lansing says she has a friend who has an autoimmune disease who has had bad reactions to the flu shot in the past.
She wants to know what should her friend expect regarding post-vaccine symptoms? Elizabeth, could you maybe give us a rundown?
Hertel: In that respect, again, I would encourage that individual to speak with their primary care provider to understand what risks they may have. Although we do know that all of the vaccines that have been authorized by the federal government are safe and effective, but we know each individual has different needs.
And so, I think that that would be important to ensure that there's a conversation with their doctor, to make sure that they receive the vaccine that is most safe and effective for them.
Vail: I would also add, if you don’t mind, that the components that often cause reactions to people for flu shots are not in these vaccines. So, a reaction to a flu shot is not necessarily predictive of a reaction to this vaccine. We're looking for people who have had reactions to injectable medications that specifically have the ingredients that are in these vaccines, not other vaccines. So, it's not necessarily "I've had a bad reaction to this vaccine before. So, I have, I'm gonna have an issue." That is not necessarily the case.
Saliby: More generally, Thomas G. in East Lansing wants to know about allergic reactions to these specific vaccines. Is there a rate of occurrence that we know about? Are there risk factors? I'll leave it up to either of you to take this one.
Vail: You know, I don't know that we have a calculated rate. As far as severe adverse reactions, what we know is they're rare, they're very rare. So, what to know about that is we also have everything we need on site at our clinics to respond to anyone that would have any kind of a reaction.
So, we, at our mass vaccination clinics, have always got paramedics on site. You know, those are large operations. And our smaller operations, clearly you have nurses. We have ER bags. We have Benadryl. We have epinephrine. We have all the things that it takes to basically take care of somebody who would have a severe reaction. So, they are rare.
When you vaccinate this many people, you know, all across this country and in this state, all at one time, you're going to see someone. If you vaccinated anybody with any vaccine, this many people all at one time, you would see adverse reactions, and they are reactions that can be responded to effectively.
Saliby: Michalyn B. asked about what should people do if they have allergies that they know would prevent them from getting the vaccine?
Hertel: If you know that you have an allergy that prevents you from getting the vaccine, again, encourage you to speak to your physician to identify if that is in fact the case. As Linda mentioned, these vaccines may be different than other vaccines that people have gotten previously.
So, to ensure that is the case, and if that is the case, we continue to follow the clinical trials by a number of pharmaceutical companies as they bring other vaccines onto the market. Additional trials with children and other vulnerable populations, so we can learn more. If somebody is unable to get the vaccine, we do know that our public health measures are effective in preventing transmission.
So, everyone should continue to wear a mask, continue to social distance, avoid large gatherings [and] washing their hands. These are effective measures to prevent transmission and should continue to be followed even as we start vaccinating large swaths of the population.
Saliby: Kelsey in Grand Rapids says she has heard that there are adverse effects to getting the vaccine, especially for those prone to anaphylaxis and pregnant women. She seems really worried that people are not being told everything about the vaccine. What would you say to Kelsey?
Vail: We are required to do that vaccine education information. There's a vaccine information sheet. Somebody will talk to them about the vaccine, as well as their prior history of reactions before they get the vaccine. Then, a vaccinator will come along and we'll have that conversation with them again.
Honestly severe anaphylaxis, you know, it can happen, it is quite rare. And so, I would encourage people to not use that as their major basis for saying, "People have anaphylaxis, so I can't get this."
Again, as Director Hertel says, get in touch with your physician, have a conversation with your physician. These vaccines have very little in them that people tend to react to. No iodine, no thimerosal, no egg components. A lot of the things that tend to be reactive to people when they get vaccines are not in these vaccines.
Saliby: Just to keep going with Kelsey's question and comment, she seems to think that there are things being kept from the public when it comes to the safety and efficacy of these vaccines. What would you say to people that maybe are still skeptical about their protection, how it works [and] things like that?
Hertel: We know through all of the development of the vaccines that are currently available, that there was very rigorous clinical trials [and] studies on the efficacy of the vaccines, adverse reactions to the vaccines, and that the FDA continues to have a very high standard to bring these sorts of vaccines to the market even under an emergency use authorization.
And we've seen this past week, once these vaccines have started being utilized with the general public, additional studies conducted by the CDC continue to demonstrate the efficacy in real world environments.
So, we know that they are safe, we know that they are effective. As Linda said, there are certainly times when people may have an adverse reaction. It is our responsibility as, you know, health officials in the public health field to ensure that people are aware of those risks, but also to understand that those risks are minimal, and that the pharmaceutical companies and teams who are developing these, take this very seriously, are very proud of the work that they do and would not put people in harm's way with the introduction of these vaccines.
So, I would encourage people to continue listening to their local health departments or state health departments. And if they have further concerns, having conversations with their physicians. Because we do know that these are safe, effective vaccines.
Vail: And just to add on to that, in terms of any thought that things are not getting recorded [or] things are being hidden from people, that is absolutely a false narrative. This is not our first vaccine campaign. We have been doing vaccinations for years.
Every single vaccine we give, we have a responsibility to report into what's called the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. Anything that happens to someone with regard to a reaction to that vaccine, that happens. That's our obligation. That's part of our agreement with the state to receive the vaccines that we receive.
If we ever were to slip and not do those things, we jeopardize ourselves as a clinical provider, as well as our standing with the state and the federal government to be part of the vaccine program. So, that is just absolutely a false narrative.
Saliby: Samuel K. in Grand Rapids asks what might the future look like if there are communities that continue to refuse to vaccinate?
Hertel: As we continue to move forward with these vaccine strategies, we are looking to try to ensure that we are achieving community level immunity with enough people being vaccinated. In the case of any vaccine, there certainly will be people who are unable to be vaccinated based on their own medical conditions.
But relying on the broader portion of the population to be vaccinated will help us ensure that we've got that community level immunity. We continue to work with different populations in different communities to ensure that people understand that the vaccine is safe and effective, and that we are here to be able to help administer that and get the vaccine into their communities.
And we continue to plan for and hope that this vaccine, broadly being administered will help bring us to an end of this phase of the pandemic of COVID-19. I know everyone is very eager to get back to a more type of normal, including myself and my family. And for that reason, we continue to work toward ensuring that every person who is eligible to receive the vaccine gets a vaccine.
Saliby: Kim K. wants to know how concerned should she be about not reaching that herd immunity, if people decide not to get the vaccine. Is that a possibility?
Vail: You know, all things are possible. So, you know, the way things are going right now we're at about 80% of our 65 and over population that have been vaccinated. I count at least one vaccine as vaccinated. I doubt anybody's gonna get one and then not get the other. So, we're well on the path when we look at how many people have gotten at least one dose of a vaccine.
And, you know, certainly as we move down in age groups, we have those concerns about vaccine hesitancy and other things. There's going to be a big educational push, as well as just public service announcements and continued, just, efforts.
You know, when we did Hepatitis A vaccines not that long ago, when we had that huge outbreak out of the southwest, excuse me, southeast area that made its way here, we were at festivals with booths giving vaccines. We were everywhere you could imagine with that vaccine available to people.
So, even though somebody might not have gone to the problem of making, you know, trouble of making an appointment, all those efforts, they walk in, and it's like, hey, we've got this vaccine here for you right now. And those are the kinds of things that help. I'm very optimistic that we can get to that 70% level. I'd like to see us get to 80% in fact.
Saliby: You've mentioned some things both of your departments are doing to get information out there about the vaccines. Eric C. in East Lansing wants to know what type of rhetoric people can use to encourage vaccination among their community, despite, you know, what people might perceive as downsides?
Hertel: We have a lot of resources on the michigan.gov website about the efficacy of all of the vaccines that we have available to us. And I would just encourage people to keep talking about how safe we know these are, how effective they are. But we are also seeing the reality of the efficacy of these vaccines with the current spike in COVID cases that we have.
We know, as Linda mentioned, that the older population has been more broadly vaccinated than the younger population and that is certainly something that we are seeing as far as hospitalizations and case rates increasing. So, we are actually seeing it on the ground that this is working, knowing that more and more people are getting vaccinated.
Hopefully, it is making others who were on the fence a little more comfortable about getting that vaccine. And we just hope to continue to make sure that we're educating people appropriately, and we continue to see the effects of the vaccines in the populations that we've been able to reach.
Saliby: You’re listening to WKAR Special News Coverage. I'm Sophia Saliby.
Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail and MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel are here with me to answer your COVID-19 vaccine questions.
People are looking forward to being vaccinated, but many of our listeners wanted to know how long they'll be protected from the virus after getting the shot.
Linda, Charles D. in East Lansing wants to know, does the medical community have enough data about the length of time the COVID-19 vaccine will protect each person?
Vail: We don't have that data yet. You know, that is basically a lot of good predictive science that's going on right now in order to try to give us some idea of where we're headed with the vaccine. I have heard, again, one of these false narratives, rumors flying around that you're going to have to get it every six months. That is again, absolutely not true.
What we do know is that people, particularly in the Pfizer trials, which were probably the earliest of them, started, I think, early summer of last year. So, what we know is that those people are being followed in order to tell you know how they are doing in terms of, you know, waning immunity or consistent immunity.
We haven't heard anything yet that we're seeing anything happen with these people that were early on in these clinical trials. It doesn't end with you know, you didn't get COVID. It ends with, we follow you and we follow you to see how long that immunity lasts.
So, we don't know if it's going to be possibly an every year vaccine, similar to a flu vaccine. It could be an every two or three year vaccine. We really don't know yet, but it is possible. It could be an annual vaccine and we should be prepared for that. But we don't really truly have enough data to tell us an absolute answer to that yet.
Saliby: We only have a few minutes left, so I want to answer some quick questions. Linda, this seems to be a question for you, David L. asks is it safer to ride on a CATA bus just one week after his first dose of the Pfizer shot? He says he is in a high-risk classification.
Vail: Is it safer than before the one week after he got a shot? Absolutely. I mean, you know, is it as safe as it can possibly be? No, but within a week after that first shot, we do see some immunity coming up. We're seeing studies now basically say that within two weeks after that first dose, we're at about 80% of efficacy. And then that boosts up with the second dose and does something I refer to as gluing-in because what it does is then activate what we call B cell and T cell which are the memory part of our immune system, which then is able to crank out antibodies. So, safer, yes. Safest, not yet.
Health Officer Vail had this additional statement after recording the special regarding this question.
It is important to remember that only 2 weeks after the second dose of a 2-dose vaccine is anyone considered fully vaccinated. As well, until we reach higher vaccination levels, it will be important to continue to protect yourself on public transportation by wearing a mask, physical distancing, washing your hands after touching surfaces, and if you are feeling ill you should stay home.
Saliby: Lisa H. in East Lansing says after only one dose of the two-dose vaccines, how safe is it to gather with two other families where one person has been fully vaccinated and others have not been vaccinated, though no one has major health issues? So, this is a gathering question. Elizabeth, do you want to take this?
Hertel: Even when gathering when some people have been partially vaccinated, others fully vaccinated, until that entire group has been fully vaccinated, we'd still encourage the mask wearing and the social distancing to ensure the minimal risk of transmission of COVID-19 among that group of individuals.
Saliby: Gino C. wants to know if the vaccine developed in India, called Covaxin, will be coming to the United States? We've heard about Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson. There's trials for an AstraZeneca one. What about Covaxin?
Vail: I have not heard anything about Covaxin. So, that may be that could very well be a vaccine that's being developed in some other part of the world that will not be part of the kind of the US repertoire of vaccines, because I've not heard about it. I don't know if you have, Director Hertel?
Hertel: No, that's the first I've heard of that one, but I will definitely be looking it up today. Thank you.
Saliby: Judith E. in Dimondale is asking about recommendations for churches at this point in the pandemic, with vaccination rates growing and, of course, a spike in COVID cases.
Should congregations be taking temperatures, removing hymnals or putting capacity limits in place? And is there a place for churches to find that guidance?
Hertel: All that guidance is available on the michigan.gov/coronavirus website for those sorts of gatherings. But again, until we reach a level of community immunity, we still want to encourage the importance of implementing our risk mitigation measures with mask wearing and social distancing, hand washing and trying to avoid those large gatherings when possible.
Saliby: Joanne W. in East Lansing says she has been vaccinated, but her daughter and son-in-law, while Florida residents, are currently living in Peru where there is a low supply of vaccines.
She wants to know if they would be able to get a dose if they were to fly up to Michigan? And I'm sure maybe some other people have questions about could they have a family member drive up here knowing that vaccines are available?
Vail: You know, we do take into account some special circumstances with people. People who may, for example, live in Florida, but summer in Michigan. We're not going to want those people to go without a vaccine. We don't necessarily want people traveling from all over the world or all over the country to get vaccinated in Michigan because they think they can get it there first, and I don't know that that's true.
But certainly, we don't want people that are able to get vaccinated to go unvaccinated. So, we've been able to make some accommodations regarding some special circumstances.
I had a woman that was vaccinated, first dose in Texas had to come here to be with her father who was dying. And clearly, it's like you got vaccinated in Texas, the second dose should be in Texas, but we're going to make that happen here. And we did. We definitely can look at special circumstances and take those into account.
Saliby: This is WKAR Special News Coverage. We've been answering your questions about the COVID-19 vaccines.
I've been joined by Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail and State Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel. Thank you for being here, Linda.
Vail: Thank you, Sophia.
Saliby: And you too, Elizabeth.
Hertel: Thank you so much.
Saliby: I'm Sophia Saliby. You can always find more of WKAR's ongoing coverage of the pandemic online at wkar.org.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.