When will I get the vaccine? The # 1 pandemic question that makes Michiganders nervous

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

These days, the 74-year-old Richland woman meets her dinner group on Zoom, and right now the No.1 topic of conversation is the COVID-19 vaccine, LeClear said.

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

About 100 miles east, Rob Granville is sitting in his apartment near Ann Arbor. He is waiting for the call to resume serving drinks at one of the bars or restaurants on Main Street, but he would like to get the shot before that happens.

“It is absolute, complete and utter nonsense to ask people to come back before they can access the vaccine,” he said. “You could just slap us in the face… because we have no choice if we want to keep our jobs. “

Whether it’s anticipating a safe meeting with friends or no longer fearing a return to work, the COVID-19 vaccine is a priority for many Michiganders.

Rob Granville is pictured in downtown Ann Arbor on Thursday, February 18, 2020. Granville worked at several restaurants in downtown Ann Arbor and was unable to receive the vaccine. Nicole Hester / Mlive.com

Meeting of spirits on Monday

Some members of LeClear’s dinner group, which is made up mostly of women 65 and older, have yet to receive the vaccine. She received her second vaccine on Friday, February 12, about a month after it became available to people 65 and older.

The friends joke that they should go to the Pfizer plant a few miles from Portage and pick up the vials straight from the production line.

“We’re right here, right in the city where Pfizer’s (vaccine) is made, and we can’t get it,” LeClear said, echoing some of his friends’ views.

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

They understand Michigan has a vaccine prioritization and planning process that ignores proximity to the Pfizer plant, said Connie Ferguson, 79, of Kalamazoo. They’re kidding, but there’s an underlying frustration in that reality, she said.

“(It’s) probably five miles from where I’m sitting right now,” Ferguson said. “So we laugh a bit when we say, ‘This is Pfizer on the road. But did we get the vaccine first? No.”

The dinner group is sharing tips on how to register, including which websites to visit or phone numbers to call, Ferguson said.

She and her husband were both shot, which she attributes to some Kalamazoo Gazette securities.

“We have both. We were very lucky, “she said.” I tend to watch the headlines a few times a day, and I checked in and saw one thing that was dated half an hour before. until Bronson (Methodist Hospital) opened their list, so I went and signed up.

Ferguson and LeClear struggled to locate registration information in the first few weeks of eligibility. In the absence of a clear answer, LeClear registered at several vaccination sites.

“I was registered with Kalamazoo (county health and community services department), Meijer Pharmacy and via Bronson on MyChart,” she said. “I had waited and waited and waited and heard nothing.”

She eventually made her breakthrough at the Family Health Center, a federally licensed health center. Michigan receives a selected quantity of vaccines through federal programs that subcontract vaccine delivery directly to these health centers, as well as to nursing homes and pharmacies.

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

Everyone in the dinner party is comfortable on a computer, Ferguson said, but a frequent topic of conversation is the privilege of the wireless Internet connection.

“We have Wi-Fi at home and we have computers,” she said. “What about all the people who need pictures at least as much as we do, who don’t have access to them? I think it just took them awhile to make things available over the phone.

At the state level, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has a 211 hotline to connect people with vaccine suppliers, spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin said. There is also a hotline for general information on COVID-19 at 888-535-6136.

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

“Just because we’re vaccinated doesn’t mean we have to be out there and display it,” she said. “We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen… let’s err on the side of caution. “

Public fear fuels need for vaccine

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

“The people who are ready to go out are mostly those who don’t care about any of this, or don’t believe it or think it’s a hoax or whatever,” said Granville, who has worked in downtown establishments such as Knight’s, Alley Bar, Conor O’Neil’s, Live and Chapala over the past decade.

Granville and restaurant employees are in the next priority group for vaccines in Michigan. The third group in phase 1B in the state includes food and agriculture workers as part of “other essential frontline workers”.

He frequently sends messages to colleagues on duty in a a Facebook group from the Ann Arbor area, although these conversations give him pause at times.

“In the great community of service there is a lot of mistrust and people who don’t want to put up with it,” he said. “There are a lot of anti-vaccine sentiments in… our world, which surprises me to see. I generally think of (Ann Arbor) as a highly educated bubble, it’s one of the most educated places in America.

Granville’s father participated in the development of certain equipment used on the production line at the Pfizer plant in Portage. He tries to use this connection, along with all the scientific knowledge he can impart, to allay anti-vax fears.

“There has been so much false information being released… that they don’t know what to believe,” he said. “Pfizer was literally in my hometown, my dad worked on these machines and I can explain exactly how they and the vaccine work.”

The need for connection

Ferguson said the dinner group has been meeting for 30 years, forming naturally over time through community interactions at church or in their neighborhoods. At the start of the pandemic, it quickly became a support network, she said.

“There was a little texting network where we were all like, ‘OK, we’ve learned this, we’ve learned that.’ Someone said early on that he had a source of masks, ”she said. “There was that kind of neighborhood support. “

The Kalamazoo group has been able to stay connected. Granville, on the other hand, is an example of the potential isolation of the pandemic.

He joined the industry to fill his emotional need to socialize. As a bartender or a nightclub DJ, he enjoys being around people.

“That’s why we’re good at what we do, because we’re very outgoing and nice people,” he said. “So that everything would disappear, with no end in sight …”

At one point, the isolation drove him to a dark place.

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

Granville recently lost two friends in the restaurant industry, one to suicide. He is concerned about the toll such isolation has taken on people, especially those who thrive in social circles.

He has recently started to undergo regular COVID-19 tests so that he can see some of his loved ones safely. But he knows that a vaccination is the first real step towards getting back to normal.

When will normalcy come to him?

“There’s no way to tell.”

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