BENTON TOWNSHIP — Berrien County residents in the new COVID-19 vaccine eligibility groups will now need to monitor the Berrien County Health Department (BCHD) website for appointments to become available, officials said Thursday, rather than sign up on a waitlist and be contacted.
Starting Monday, the BCHD will allow all adults over the age of 50, and caregivers of children with special health needs, to schedule appointments when they are available, according to a Thursday news release.
Information will be posted on the website, www.bchdmi.org/COVID19, directly when there are appointments available for self-scheduling. The health department is encouraging eligible residents to check the website often, as new appointment availability may be added daily. Self-scheduling will be on a first-come, first-serve basis.
People with limited internet access are encouraged to call the BCHD COVID-19 hotline at 1-800-815-5485 for assistance in scheduling an appointment.
Several people expressed frustration with the new first-come, first serve system on the BCHD Facebook page on Thursday, after a waitlist system had been used for those 65 years and older.
“So, let me understand – in the last months no centralized county system has been created to manage the vaccination process/strategy. Now there’s not even a way to pre-register,” said one frustrated resident on Facebook. “Result: we are left to a Hunger Games-style vaccination strategy that will force people to spend hours on dozens of websites to find the vaccine you are encouraging everybody to take. Wonderful.”
Gillian Conrad, spokesperson for the BCHD, said Thursday afternoon that with the large newly eligible group, department officials felt that it would be most efficient and convenient – for the department and residents – to be able to schedule appointments directly for themselves.
“We’ve had small and steady increases in vaccine allocations over the last several weeks, and anticipate that those allocations will continue to grow. With those larger allocations, we’ll be able to open up more clinic appointments and make them available for our residents who are eligible,” she said.
Adults over the age of 65 who have not yet been vaccinated will continue to be prioritized through the waitlist system. That group will still be contacted to schedule an appointment.
The BCHD will reserve special appointment slots at upcoming clinics so those over the age of 65 may have assurance that they will continue to receive opportunities for vaccination, Conrad said.
All eligible residents are also able to seek vaccination through other vaccine providers in the area, including the Meijer Pharmacy in Benton Harbor, Spectrum Health Lakeland, and Rite Aid Pharmacies around the county.
As of Wednesday, Berrien County vaccine providers had given 41,089 doses of vaccine, with 15,846 of those being second doses.
Large clinic set
The Berrien County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution Thursday to hold a large COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Mendel Center at Lake Michigan College.
The 2,000 dose clinic is set for March 9, with second doses scheduled for April 6, according to the resolution.
The Mendel Center is being used because the health department does not have enough space at its location, with social distancing protocol, to handle such a large clinic.
Nicki Britten, health officer for the BCHD, said Wednesday that the largest clinic they’ve been able to hold so far has given about 1,300 doses.
The Mendel Center has offered to host this clinic and future clinics at no charge to the county, according to the resolution.
Berrien County recorded three COVID-19 deaths on Thursday. This brought the county’s pandemic death toll to 220.
In addition, the county recorded 33 new COVID-19 cases and 25 new recoveries.
With the deaths and recoveries, the county is at about 595 active COVID-19 cases. That’s down from 635 last Thursday.
For the third day in a row, COVID-19 hospitalizations at Spectrum Health Lakeland were at 12. Last Thursday the hospital also reported 12 COVID-positive patients admitted.