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Essential workers get emotional at Oakland County mass vaccination

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Novi -- It was cold outside, the sun had just come up and Debbie Rosenblatt was miles from home, yet the school social worker could not contain her excitement about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine on Saturday.

After confirming her appointment with Oakland County health officials at a mass vaccination site inside the Suburban Collection Showplace, Rosenblatt raised her arms into the air, pumped her fists and headed for a nurse's table where she received a poke containing the Moderna vaccine.

"It's been a very difficult year, work, family, just holding it together," Rosenblatt said in the waiting area, after getting the vaccine. "It feels good to kind of be on the other side of it emotionally. That's what this vaccine feels like."

Kimberly Muma of Rochester Hills, a teacher at Warren Consolidated Schools receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi on Jan. 23, 2021.

More than 100 staffers from the Oakland County Health Division were at the Novi center to prepare and administer more than 3,400 doses of the vaccine to frontline and essential workers who were residents of Oakland County and landed a slot on the county's “Save Your Spot” program.

There were 25 stations set up, each with a nurse and another staffer, who waved over vaccine recipients to administer their first dose. Medical students and nurses checked on patients after they got the vaccine in an observation area with 100 stations.

Oakland County Health Division RN Mary Johnson of Rochester waits for a resident at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi on Jan. 23, 2021.

Leigh-Anne Stafford, Oakland County health officer, said Saturday's mass vaccination event helps the county "test run" the timing of prescreening, administering the vaccine and observing patients post-vaccine.

"This is a very big space. ... As we start to ramp up, we could do thousands of vaccine over what we are doing today," Stafford said. "We know we can do more."

Stafford said the 3,400 people with appointments on Saturday in Novi consisted of health care staff, long-term care staff and residents; law enforcement, fire and EMS; education staff, and individuals 65 years and older who live or work in Oakland County.

Oakland County Health Division Medical Director Dr. Russell Faust, left, and Health Officer Leigh-Anne Stafford answer questions from reporters at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, Mich. on Jan. 23, 2021.

James Lytle, head of security at Seaholm HIgh School with Birmingham Public Schools, said he was excited and thankful to get the vaccine on Saturday. 

"I know very close friends who have died," Lytle, 70, said, starting to choke up with emotion as he sat in the observation room after his vaccine.

"My brother just called and said he took his wife to the hospital. It has hit home. My wife is a breast cancer survivor," Lytle said. "I just want to be safe for you. I want myself to be protected and I want all my children and my school to be protected."

People wait in line to receive their Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi on Jan. 23, 2021.

Health officials started working at 5 a.m. to remove vaccine vials from storage and others monitored the vaccines on site throughout the day on Saturday. 

Another 500 Moderna doses were expected to be given Saturday at a Southfield location, bringing the total number of vaccines to more than 4,000 across the county.

As of Friday, the county had administered more than 10,000 vaccines — not including Saturday's vaccinations — at five drive-through locations since Dec. 18. Its first mass vaccination program occurred on Saturday at the Suburban Collection Showplace which was offered to the county for no charge.

County officials say they are hopeful that the distribution problems will be fixed at the federal level in coming weeks so the county can meet the demand of its residents who understand the vaccine is the path to saving lives, ending the pandemic and recovering the economy.

Oakland County Health Division RN Floriane Bishay administers a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Rosemary Williams of Southfield at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi on Jan. 23, 2021

Dr. Russell Faust, Oakland County medical director, said the county is expecting another vaccine shipment for the week on Monday, about 5,850 first-doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 975 second-doses from Pfizer. 

The goal is to use all vaccines received for the week before Monday. County residents were called late Friday to ask if they wanted available appointments on Saturday.

"No vaccine is wasted. None. Zero," Faust said. "At the end of the day if we have a vial left ... we make phone calls and get people there. Every dose goes into an arm. Nothing gets wasted. This is a pandemic. We can't afford that."

jchambers@detroitnews.com

Oakland County Health Division RN Margaret McCarthy of Farmington Hills prepares a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi on Jan. 23, 2021