Michigan National Guard expands COVID-19 efforts statewide, vaccination teams deploy immediately

Michigan National Guard

Story by Bruce Huffman

Lansing, Mich.–The Michigan National Guard (MING) expanded its COVID-19 vaccination and testing efforts Jan. 24, by deploying three additional task forces to assist Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and local health departments throughout the state. One MING COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Team (CVTT) has been at the Lansing Mall since then, helping administer vaccinations to residents from Barry and Eaton Counties.

“Vaccinations are currently being given at the Lansing Mall by appointment-only, to residents from Barry and Eaton Counties who register at https://www.barryeatonhealth.org/ ,” said,” Ann Barna, planning director with the Barry-Eaton District Health Dept., and administrator of the vaccination clinic at the Lansing Mall.

The large retail space where Old Navy was once located and all utilities were donated by the Lansing Mall for the vaccination clinic site. There are currently four vaccination pods set up there, and according to Barna, they’re administering about 40 vaccinations per hour. “There’s plenty of room here, and we plan on expanding to six vaccination pods, and doubling the amount of appointments and vaccinations as soon as more vaccine is available.”

According to Barna, the vaccination process has been relatively smooth considering it’s a new model that’s never been used before. “This is the largest vaccination effort we’ve ever done. We’ve also never had to maintain social distancing or take as many precautions as we’ve had to with COVID-19,” she said.

“Once patients receive their vaccination, they remain in place for a 15 minute observation period to ensure there are no adverse reactions, she continued. Medical staff giving vaccinations move from patient to patient in the pods, and by the time they come back around, the chairs have been sanitized and there’s a new patient waiting.”

“We are volunteer-powered, said Barna. We don’t have a lot of funding to operate the vaccination clinics, so we rely on local volunteers and the National Guard to fill crucial spots. Working with the MING has been great! They show up, are reliable, and they are trained to do the job.” In addition to the medical staff actually giving the vaccinations, there are two nurse leads preparing the vaccines, volunteers at the registration desk, a registration lead, a volunteer coordinator, and someone to do data entry.

U.S. Army Private 1st Class Christian Howard of the 1436th Engineers in Montague, Mich., was at the clinic scheduling appointments for second-dose vaccinations and doing data entry. A veteran in the fight against COVID-19, he was one of the Soldiers tasked with solving the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) shortage in Michigan when COVID-19 first hit in 2020.

Early last year, Howard and his teammates gathered PPE and equipment scattered across the state in different locations and organized it in a 130,000 square foot warehouse in Lansing. They conducted accountability audits for every item and streamlined supply distribution methods for more than $275 million in PPE so it could be dispatched immediately. In the past year, Michigan’s Guard has helped with COVID-19 response, provided support during massive flooding, and kept people safe during times of civil unrest.

“It’s been tough to get to this point, but each vaccination brings us closer to beating COVID-19,” said Howard. “People have complimented us for our professionalism and how smoothly the vaccination process has been, which feels great. You can see the relief on their faces as they leave the clinic.”

“Throughout 2020, the men and women of the MING stepped up as trusted professionals time and time again to support their neighbors when called upon,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers, adjutant general and director of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. “As 2021 begins, we are doubling down on our commitment to the safety of Michigan communities by doing everything we can to make this vaccine as accessible as possible.”

Michigan has started Phase 1B of their vaccination plan, which includes those over age 65. As more of the population is eligible for vaccines, the need for additional support administering the doses has increased. As of Feb. 1, 2021, the Michigan National Guard has administered more than 45,000 vaccines to Michiganders.

“We are here to help the state where asked,” said Rogers. “From the city of Detroit to my hometown of Calumet, the Michigan National Guard will continue to assist our communities in this very important mission.”

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