COVID Vaccine - web only

A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is shown.

BENTON TOWNSHIP — Berrien County health officials repeated Thursday that they are working as fast as possible to get COVID-19 vaccine into arms, though the process is still ramping up.

Nicki Britten, health officer for the Berrien County Health Department (BCHD), said during a Facebook Live event Thursday that the BCHD has about 14,000 people already on its waitlist for those age 65 years and older who want the vaccine.

“We have a good idea of what we’re doing for the next six weeks of clinics, and we’re ramping up our capacity, but you might not be aware of clinics until a few days ahead of time because we want to make sure that by the time we get to an appointment, and by the time you have an appointment scheduled, we’re sure you have a vaccine,” Britten said.

Demand is still far outpacing supply of the vaccine, and Dr. Loren Hamel, president of Spectrum Health Lakeland, said the health system and the BCHD are hopeful they’ll get a couple of thousands of doses of vaccine delivered next week.

Britten said they still estimate about 40,000 Berrien County residents are in the next phase of eligibility to get the vaccine.

As of Tuesday, 3,647 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in Berrien County, according to state data. Of that total, about 326 have received their second dose.

Hamel and Britten said the best way to ensure you get notified when you can make a vaccine appointment is by either signing up on the BCHD’s waitlist, at www.bchdmi.org/1745/COVID-19-Vaccine-Information, or through Lakeland’s MyChart.

“We want you to be checking your email daily, because when your time comes up, you may not have a lot of time to plan far out because we’re not planning appointments far out. It will be rapid with a few days notice,” Britten said.

They said the internet waitlists are the best way to sign up, and friends and families of people without internet access should help them sign up. If that is not an option, folks without internet access can call the BCHD COVID hotline, 800-815-5485, to get on the waitlist.

They said they are cross-referencing their signup lists, so if you have signed up on both, that’s OK. What they want to deter people from doing is signing up for more than one vaccine appointment, so they don’t ever have an empty time-slot in a clinic schedule.

While this process takes several more weeks and months, Britten and Hamel reminded people that this is not the time to let your guard down on the COVID precautions like social distancing and wearing face coverings.

“It’s easy to say, we have the vaccine and thousands of people in county have been vaccinated, but I want to encourage everybody to think about the vaccine as more of a long-term investment strategy,” Britten said. “We’re going to be putting vaccines into that account and we’re going to see it pay dividends by this summer or late spring.”

Data update

Britten and Hamel said the county is at a plateau stage regarding COVID-19 numbers and hospitalizations.

Spectrum Health Lakeland reported having 40 COVID-19 patients admitted Thursday morning. That’s down from the 46 last Thursday, but holding with the seven-day average of 41 patients a day.

The county recorded 46 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, as well as 52 new recoveries and no new deaths.

Recoveries are defined as people who are alive 30 days after a confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses.

Hamel said Thursday that anyone who gets COVID-19 should assume they can get it again, and some might get it worse the second time, as they’ve seen in some cases.

He said new strains of the virus that have started to pop up in the U.S. have not made it to Berrien County yet, but health officials expect to see it here at some point.

Contact: anewman@TheHP.com, 932-0357, Twitter: @HPANewman