Michigan National Guard
Story by Bruce Huffman
Lansing, Mich.— Early February, Fire Station #3 in Jackson, Michigan looked more like a place to get a quick oil change than a fire station, as a steady line of cars filed through allowing Michigan National Guard medics to quickly vaccinate the occupants through the vehicle side windows. Michigan’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts and its creative approach to mass vaccinations seem to be paying off, because COVID-19 cases in Michigan have dropped to their lowest level since October, and the state has begun cautiously lifting restrictions.
According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, as of Feb. 17 more than 1.6 million vaccine doses have been administered statewide, and Michigan has had fewer COVID-19 cases than any of its four neighboring states, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.
“We administered the first dose to these Jackson County residents at the fire station 21 days earlier, and we’re back to administer the second dose,” said Felicia Baker, a registered nurse with the Jackson County Health Department, who headed-up the vaccination clinic.
According to Baker, patients registered online for their initial appointments at the Jackson County Health Department website, and after the first dose was administered, they were simply given a vaccination card and told when to return for their second dose. After receiving the injections, drive-thru vaccination patients waited in the parking lot behind the fire station in their vehicles for 15 minutes while Soldiers monitored them for adverse reactions to the vaccine.
“It’s an unorthodox approach to administering vaccinations, but the drive-thru clinics are very effective for administering mass vaccinations,” said Baker. An additional seven lane drive-thru clinic was set up at the Jackson County Department of Transportation garage nearby, and both locations were getting a steady influx of patients eager to receive the vaccine.
“Each vaccination team does things slightly different, but it’s always great working with the Michigan National Guard,” she said.
Army Maj. Robert E. Toevs, a physician’s assistant with the Michigan Army National Guard Medical Detachment located on Eight Mile Rd. in Detroit was one of the Soldiers giving vaccinations at the fire station. “Some of the patients have actually lost loved ones to COVID,” said Toevs. “Hearing their stories brings it home just how important the COVID-19 response mission is.”
When he’s not serving in uniform, Toevs works in the urology and surgery departments at the Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center in Saginaw. He’s seen first-hand the devastating effects COVID-19 has had on families in his community. “During the lockdown, face-to-face appointments at the VA hospital were greatly reduced, so we started seeing folks virtually,” said Toevs. “You have to be flexible and find new ways to get things done during a pandemic. Virtual visits allow you to see more patients safely,” he said. “In fact, some of the patients who live far away actually prefer virtual visits.”
Harry Thomson, D.D.S., and his wife, Joan, received their vaccinations at the Fire Station #3 drive-thru clinic. Thomson was forced to temporarily close his dental practice in Jackson from March 2020 until mid-June, due to COVID-19.
“We had to take a lot of precautions before we could open our doors again,” said Thomson. “We had to display our personal protective equipment policy prominently on the front door, take each patient’s temperature, maintain social distancing, continuously sanitize, and the staff is now required to wear special gowns, gloves, and masks, which aren’t always easy to find.”
According to Thomson, the greatest challenge by far, has been finding employees who are willing to work during the pandemic. “Statistically dentists and dental hygienists are at a very high risk of contracting COVID-19,” said Thomson. “Fortunately, thanks to our mitigation efforts none of our staff has contracted the virus.”
The Center for Disease Control states that between 70-85 percent of the population will have to get vaccinated for COVID-19 before herd immunity is achieved in the United States. However, even with COVID-19 cases starting to drop in Michigan, there’s still some hesitancy to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. According to a recent Associated Press National Opinion Research Center poll, about 50 percent of people surveyed say they are skeptical about receiving the COVID-19 vaccination.
“People need to understand vaccinations are a safe and effective way to prevent diseases and save lives,” said Toevs. “Through the years, vaccines have practically eliminated the spread of numerous preventable diseases like measles, mumps, and whooping cough to name a few. You cannot contract COVID-19 from the vaccine.”
Although COVID-19 vaccines which are currently available have not undergone the same extensive reviews as typical FDA-approved products, they have met the criteria for release under the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). This means the totality of scientific evidence available shows that the product may be effective at preventing COVID-19, and that the known potential benefits greatly outweigh the known potential risks.
“It’s everyone’s personal choice whether to take the vaccine or not,” said Toevs. “Just keep in mind, since the first COVID-19 vaccine was granted EUA in December, cases and the number of deaths have started to decline. Daily new COVID-19 cases in Michigan have fallen below 1,000 for the first time since October, and there are significantly fewer people being hospitalized for COVID,” he said. “Once exposed to a vaccine, your immune system builds a resistance to fight off that virus, and we typically remain protected against it for years or even a lifetime.”
“We have expanded our commitment to the safety of our Michigan communities by adding three additional task forces to help fight COVID-19, and are doing everything we can to make this vaccine as accessible as possible,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers, adjutant general and director of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. “We will continue mitigation efforts and vaccinating Michiganders until everyone is protected from COVID-19.”