Eligible for a COVID vaccine in Washtenaw County? Here’s what you should know

New appointments added Mondays, Fridays

FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2021, file photo, vials for the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines are displayed on a tray at a clinic set up by the New Hampshire National Guard in the parking lot of Exeter, N.H., High School. The nation is poised to get a third vaccine against COVID-19, but health officials are concerned that at first glance the Johnson & Johnson shot may not be seen as equal to other options from Pfizer and Moderna. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File) (Charles Krupa, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

ANN ARBORStory update: New appointments will be added to the Washtenaw County Health Department’s website Mondays at 9 a.m. and Fridays at 10 p.m. Additional appointments may be added at other points throughout the week depending on supply.

More than half a million people became eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Michigan on Monday, including those over age 50 and those over age 16 with preexisting medical conditions or disabilities.

Here in Washtenaw County, the Health Department announced a new online, self-scheduling system for both of its mass vaccination sites. If you are now eligible and you feel like you’re hitting a wall when trying to make an appointment, you’re not alone.

We spoke with Washtenaw County Health Department public information officer, Susan Ringler-Cerniglia, who addressed common concerns, explained how the county is handling vaccine supply and offered some tips for those trying to get a coveted first-dose appointment.

See our Q&A below.

What’s the challenge of new vaccine eligibility phases opening up?

We know every time that we get a big eligibility expansion like this that happens at the state level, that there’s way more people eligible than we can schedule. As much as we’d like to just schedule everybody, we really have to be very careful about that because our supplies are week to week. The last thing we’d want to do is schedule appointments assuming that we’d get thousands of doses and not have those doses come in.

What about people who were eligible before March 22 who still haven’t received their first dose?

We want them to know that we are still scheduling them before we open it widely. We are sending them emails with direct links or calls to get those people scheduled. Anyone that was already on our waiting list prior to Monday doesn’t necessarily need to redo the process. They should be getting a scheduling link from us this week and they should call us if they don’t receive it.

Is there a certain day of the week people should be checking the Health Department’s site for vaccine availability?

Typically, we find out our confirmed doses on Friday for the next week, but it takes time to pull out the second doses to know how much we have.

Let’s say we have 5,000 people on our waiting list and we send out links for them to schedule. We’re only receiving one-half to one-third of them back, which means they’re getting the vaccine elsewhere. We’re optimistic that moving this direction is going to be easier for everyone in the long run. I would say just check the site regularly.

How many doses does the Health Department receive every week?

It fluctuates, really, by three different types. The Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson amounts are all different. Ballpark is, we’ve been getting 6,000-8,000 a week. But you have to also account for the second doses you have to give.

Can you choose which vaccine you get?

When an appointment is booked, you get information about what vaccine you are expected to get. Right now, we’re just providing information and not giving people a choice.

*She explained that people who have known allergies to ingredients in a vaccine will be assigned to a specific vaccine.

Is the Health Department throwing out doses at the end of the day?

We have not thrown anything out. We really bend over backwards to make sure those precious doses get used. We do that through scheduling as carefully as possible. If there are doses at end of day that have to be used, we use our lists to get those in bodies.

It’s tiring but exhilarating. At the end of the day, we want to get as many people protected as possible.

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About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.