GRAND RAPIDS — The mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic at DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids raised eligibility Tuesday to anyone 16 years and older as more doses become available and amid recent surges in cases among a younger population and rising positive tests.
The DeVos Place clinic — operated by Spectrum Health, Mercy Health and the Kent County Health Department — administered more than 12,500 doses Monday in 12 hours. Spectrum Health has 52,000 vaccine appointments scheduled for this week.
Increased eligibility follows guidance from the state that came out Monday evening, Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, president of Spectrum Health West Michigan, said today during a media briefing.
“Our goal is to put as many shots in arms as possible,” Elmouhci said.
Ramping up access to the vaccine comes as inpatient hospitalizations at Spectrum Health nearly tripled in less than three weeks to 139 as of today. The seven-day average positive test rate also rose to about 11.8 percent statewide and 12.8 percent at Spectrum Health, said President and CEO Tina Freese Decker.
“At present we are seeing a concerning increase in COVID-19 positivity and people with COVID-19 in our hospitals,” said Freese Decker, who urged people to continue wearing face masks, social distancing and to continue other safety practices. “We need to make sure we’re keeping prevention top of mind until everyone has an opportunity to receive this vaccine and we can reach herd immunity.”
The surge has primarily affected a younger demographic.
The average age of Spectrum Health’s COVID-19 inpatients today is 60 years old, compared to 73 during a case surge last October and November, Elmouchi said.
Inpatient admissions for COVID-19 involving people 40 years old and younger increased dramatically by 54 percent in the last two weeks, while hospitalizations have declined for people 70 and older as a percentage of all inpatients, Elmouchi said.
The present case surge feels “strangely and sadly (similar) to what we felt in the fall,” said Elmouchi, who attributes the increase to the prevalence of coronavirus variants in the state that are far more contagious.
“Over the last one to two weeks we’ve really seen our inpatient admissions jump up dramatically. As a matter of fact, the slope of that curve or the increase is actually a bit faster than we saw in the October, November timeframe,” he said.
The major change since then is the availability of three vaccines, starting in late December with Pfizer Inc.
Through Monday, more than 2.6 million Michigan residents had been vaccinated, or about one-third of the state’s population, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
“It feels different from those initial surges where we were not able to fight back as effectively as we can now with the additional vaccines,” said Brian Peters, CEO of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association. “It’s certainly beginning to feel a bit like déjà vu with the initial surges, but the big difference and the reason for some optimism is that now we have the new tool in the toolbox with the vaccine and the supply increase.”
The MHA last week reported that hospitalizations statewide increased 633 percent from March 1 to March 23 for people 30 to 39 years old, and 800 percent for adults between 40 and 49.
At the same time, hospitalization rates declined 37 percent for people 80 and older, reflecting a greater vaccination rate among the older population and the effectiveness of vaccines, according to the MHA.
The declining hospitalization rate among the older population that was first to get vaccinated indicates that the vaccines work, officials say.
“The people 70 and older, they’re not getting hospitalized. That’s the best evidence I can think of to say apparently the vaccines are working as they were intended because vaccinated people aren’t showing up at the hospital,” Peters said.
The West Michigan Vaccine Clinic at DeVos Place has delivered more than 145,000 doses since opening in January, said Jon Ashford, chief operating officer at Spectrum Health’s United and Kelsey Hospitals. Ashford leads all of the health system’s vaccine clinics.
While weekly shipments have been rising and this week reached nearly 560,000, more than double from a month ago, dose distribution remains “very sporadic,” Ashford said.
“We have not seen our state’s stability in the amount of doses that we’re receiving, but we’re still optimistic we are going to continue to receive the volume that we have this week,” he said.
As of today, Michigan has recorded 665,948 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 16,082 deaths.
Among the concerns looking ahead are people traveling for the upcoming spring break and hesitancy among some people to get the vaccine.
Hesitancy to get vaccinated is “probably going to be the biggest problem we’re going to face,” as vaccine supply increases, Elmouchi said.
“It is contingent on all of us to do everything we can to convince people that this is safe, this is effective, and that this the only way that life is going to get back to normal,” he said.