Michigan National Guard
Story by Staff Sgt. Tegan Kucera
MUSKEGON, Mich. – In order for everyone across the state to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, some health departments have been holding clinics in multiple area locations to make it easier for citizens to find a clinic.
The Michigan National Guard helped Muskegon County Health Department hold two vaccination clinics in the county on March 10, 2021, at Mercy Health Urgent Care Hackley Campus in Muskegon and the American Legion in Holton.
“I’m impressed with the way the vaccine is handled here — I’m surprised it’s already here,” said Ivy Gillian, a Muskegon County resident who received her first shot at the American Legion in Holton. “I thought it would take a lot longer than it has and I thought it would be hitting the really big cities and forget about us little town folks.”
Gillian was sure she would have to drive at least a 100 miles in order to get the vaccine and was delighted it was available right down the road. She said she enjoyed the overall experience from driving in and seeing the tank parked outside the American Legion to the vaccination process at the clinic.
“We didn’t even sit for 10 minutes and we were already getting our shots, that’s amazing,” said Gillian. “I like that they’re having us sit for 15 minutes to make sure that we don’t have some kind of reaction right away.”
Gillian is not yet 65, but she has several severe pre-existing conditions that make her eligible for the shot a little earlier than others in her age group. For the last year she has been hiding in her house in order to avoid the coronavirus.
“I find it very important to take care of our residents with pre-existing conditions because we have a lot of folks who have been waiting a long time,” said Jamie Hekker the health department team leader for the clinic at the American Legion. “We know in Muskegon County, as well as Michigan on a whole, we have a lot of people who do have pre-existing conditions and if they test positive for COVID-19 they are much more likely to have a poor outcome, to get sicker, to actually end up in the hospital or unfortunately to pass away,”
“It’s important to get the people highest at risk vaccinated as quickly as possible,” she said.
Hekker is with the Muskegon County Health Department and assists in planning and running clinics like the one at the American Legion. With more vaccines being provided to the counties, she says she planning events like the one in Holton is easier.
“It’s important that we bring the services to the people and to a place that they are comfortable and this (the American Legion) was a natural fit,” said Hekker. “Things have gotten a little steadier and so we’re able to plan on having these larger events when we know that we’re going to have the second dose coming. It has been great to be able to plan an event to bring people in, to serve them. It’s really heartwarming.”
While the clinic at the American Legion was a special clinic for a smaller community, the Muskegon County Health Department is addressing the needs in larger ones too. Every week day they are holding clinics at the Mercy Health Urgent Care Hackley Campus in Muskegon. This is a daily clinic that is able to vaccinate many people through the course of a week.
“A lot of patients who come here, especially our elderly, are almost happier to be talked to then they are to actually get their shot, because a lot of them haven’t been out of the house in months. Just having a conversations with people, you can almost see how it brightens up their day just to come here,” said U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jody Nitz.
A cardio pulmonary laboratory technician with the Air National Guard, Nitz has been giving vaccines at the Muskegon clinic. He is part of Task Force Bronco, a COVID-19 response task force assembled by the Michigan National Guard to help county health departments with the vaccines.
“Health departments are not staffed for something of this magnitude, to keep giving shots day after day at a high volume,” said Nitz. “This is a great use of emergency response for the National Guard across the country, this is part of what we were built for, to help the general public.”
Nitz, like many of the other vaccinators, would like to help vaccinate the rest of the public because they have seen how much it means to those who have already received theirs.
“It’s their happiest day,” said Nitz. “Husbands and wives come and it’s like they’re out on a date. It’s the first time they’ve been out of the house in a long time, so it’s like ‘our day date’ to go get the vaccine.”