When will I be vaccinated? The # 1 pandemic question that makes Michiganders nervous

Before the pandemic, Laurie LeClear chatted with a group of friends over dinner all night. Conversations filled the time as much as food and drink would fill your stomach, usually in a restaurant in downtown Kalamazoo.

Nowadays, the 74-year-old Richland woman is meeting her dinner group over Zoom, and right now the No. 1 topic of conversation is the COVID-19 vaccine, LeClear said.

“I’m not saying that’s the only thing we’re talking about,” she said. “But it is always mentioned at some point.”

Rob Granville is sitting in his apartment near Ann Arbor about 100 miles east. He’s waiting for the call to serve drinks again at one of the bars or restaurants on Main Street, but wants to get the vaccine before it does.

“It is utter, complete and utter nonsense that people are being asked to come back before they can access the vaccine,” he said. “You might as well slap us in the face … because we have no choice if we want to keep our jobs.”

Regardless of whether it is about seeing friends safely again or worrying about not having to return to work, the COVID-19 vaccine is a top priority for many Michiganers.

Rob Granville stands for a portrait in downtown Ann Arbor on Thursday, February 18, 2020. Granville has worked at a number of restaurants in downtown Ann Arbor and failed to receive the vaccine. Nicole Hester / Mlive.com

Meeting of the ghosts on Monday

Some of LeClear’s dinner groups, consisting mostly of women 65 and over, have not yet received the vaccine. She received her second vaccine on Friday, February 12, about a month after it became available to people 65 and over.

Friends joke that they should go to the Pfizer plant, just a few miles down the street in Portage, and take vials straight from the production line.

“Here we are, in the exact same town that Pfizers (vaccine) is made, and we can’t get it,” said LeClear, sharing some of her friends’ views.

Related: Portage “shines with pride” in anticipation of Biden’s Pfizer visit

You know Michigan has a vaccine prioritization and planning process that doesn’t take into account proximity to the Pfizer facility, said Connie Ferguson, 79, of Kalamazoo. You are joking, but there is frustration in this reality, she said.

“(It’s) probably five miles from where I’m sitting,” Ferguson said. “So we giggle when we say, ‘This is Pfizer down the street. ‘But did we get the vaccine first? No.”

The dinner group gives advice on how to sign up, including websites to visit or phone numbers to call, Ferguson said.

She and her husband were both shot, which she attributes to some of the headlines in the Kalamazoo Gazette.

“We got both. We were very lucky, ”she said. “I read the headlines a few times a day and checked in and saw one thing that was date stamped by Bronson (Methodist Hospital) half an hour before the list was opened. So I signed up. “

Both Ferguson and LeClear found it difficult to track credentials in the first few weeks of eligibility. In the absence of a clear answer, LeClear has signed up to several vaccination sites.

“I was enrolled in Kalamazoo (the county health and community services department), Meijer’s Pharmacy, and MyChart through Bronson,” she said. “I waited and waited and waited and heard nothing.”

She eventually got her breakthrough at the Family Health Center, a state-certified health center. Michigan receives a select amount of vaccines through federal programs that award the delivery of vaccines directly to these health centers, as well as to nursing homes and pharmacies.

Related: Governor Whitmer urges President Biden to coordinate the distribution of federal COVID-19 vaccinations with the state

Everyone in the dinner group is comfortable using a computer, Ferguson said, but a common topic of conversation is the privilege of having a wireless Internet connection.

“We have WiFi at home and we have computers,” she said. “What about all the people who need the recordings at least as badly as we do, who don’t have this access? I think it only took them a while to get things available over the phone. “

At the state level, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has a 211 hotline that can put people in touch with vaccine providers, spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin said. There is also a hotline for general COVID-19 information at 888-535-6136.

Although both LeClear and Ferguson are now fully vaccinated, they don’t expect the dinner group to meet in person for a while.

“Just because we’re vaccinated doesn’t mean we have to be out there and flaunt it,” she said. “We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen … let’s play it safe.”

Fear of public fuel needs for vaccines

Not all diners are as health conscious as LeClear or Ferguson, said Granville, the Ann Arbor restaurant worker.

“The people who are ready to come out are mostly the ones who don’t give s — about any of it or don’t believe in it or think it’s a joke or whatever,” said Granville, who has worked at facilities in the Downtown like Knight’s, Alley Bar, Conor O’Neil’s, Live, and Chapala over the past decade.

Granville and restaurant workers are among the next vaccine priority group in Michigan. The third group of Phase 1B in the state includes food and farm workers as part of “other essential front-line workers”.

He calls in to other service reps on a Facebook group in Ann Arbor a lot, though those conversations sometimes give him a break.

“There is a lot of distrust in the larger service community and people who don’t want to accept it,” he said. “There is a lot of anti-vaccine sentiment in … our world, which surprises me. I think (Ann Arbor) is a very educated bubble in general, this is one of the best educated places in America. “

Granville’s father helped develop some of the equipment that would be used on the production line at Pfizer’s Portage facility. He tries to use this connection and as much scientific knowledge as possible to allay anti-vax fears.

“So much misinformation has been spread … that you don’t know what to believe,” he said. “Pfizer was literally in my hometown, my father worked on these machines and I can explain to you exactly how they and the vaccine work.”

The need for connection

Ferguson said the dinner group had met for 30 years and formed naturally over time through interactions in the church or their neighborhood. It quickly became a support network at the start of the pandemic, she said.

“There was a little text network where we all said, ‘OK, we learned this, we learned this. ‘Someone said early on that they had a source for masks,’ she said. “There was this kind of neighborhood support.”

The Kalamazoo group was able to keep in touch. Granville, on the other hand, is an example of the potential isolation of the pandemic.

He joined the industry to meet his emotional need for socializing. As a bartender or night DJ in a club, he loves to be with people.

“That’s why we’re good at what we do, because we’re very sociable and personable people,” he said. “So that all of this is gone, with no end in sight …”

At some point, isolation brought him to a dark place.

“There was one point where I was sitting on my porch in the rain and holding a knife to my wrist to see how it felt,” he said. “Jesus … I’m a social person (and) you don’t have to separate me from all of this. It almost knocked me out. “

Granville recently lost two friends in the restaurant industry, including one to suicide. He worries about the toll this isolation has taken on people, especially those who thrive in social settings.

He recently began receiving regular COVID-19 tests so he could see some of his loved ones more safely. But he knows that vaccination is the first real step towards normalization.

When will be normal for him?

“There’s no way to say.”

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