Dr. Joneigh Khaldun gets vaccinated to continue her work in emergency medicine alongside charting Michigan coronavirus policy. Photo courtesy of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun gets vaccinated to continue her work in emergency medicine alongside charting Michigan coronavirus policy.

The ambitious vaccination campaign will define 2021 as much as the pandemic defined 2020. Here’s how Michiganders can do their part.

MICHIGAN—The 71,000th dose of the coronavirus vaccine in Michigan was administered Monday. 

While Michigan’s pace of vaccinations seems laudable, NBC reports that to adequately vaccinate America at the current pace of distribution would take ten years. That pace will naturally increase over time, with increased access and availability of the vaccines, but the surreal liminality that leaves Michiganders feeling “stuck in time” isn’t going away anytime soon.

Life will not return to the way it was when the ball drops Thursday night, and it likely won’t for months thereafter. But this is the beginning of the home stretch of the pandemic that has rocked the world for the last year. 

As we all bear witness to the largest vaccination campaign in US history, what can change is how we get involved in the process. From taking our turn with the vaccine to remaining vigilant on COVID-19 prevention procedures, Michiganders can do their part to bring the pandemic to an end. 

Get the Vaccine When It’s Your Turn

By far the most critical role Michiganders have to play in ending the coronavirus pandemic is getting vaccinated. But when each person gets the vaccine depends on their risk factors both for contracting the coronavirus and for severe results of infection. Getting the vaccine in an orderly fashion is critical. 

“For those individuals who are eager and ready and know that they want it, basically, stay tuned. We’re providing information as quickly as we possibly can,” Gillian Conrad, spokesperson for the Berrien County Health Department, told the Herald-Palladium.

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The first people to receive the vaccine have to be those with highest risk, especially people who work in health care or live in long-term care facilities, according both to Michigan officials and CDC recommendations. But full vaccination of as many Michiganders as possible needs to be the long-term goal. 

“The arrival of this vaccine in Michigan is our way forward and signals that the end of this pandemic is near,” Michigan’s chief medical official, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, said while receiving the vaccine Dec. 17. “I am getting this vaccine so I can continue to take care of patients in the emergency department, and so that I don’t spread it to other staff, patients, or have to stay out because I am ill.”

Over the next year, Khaldun wants 70% of adult Michiganders vaccinated—that’s 5.4 million people, each of whom need two doses of the vaccine. Not only will this be a massive undertaking for Michigan’s public health system, but will require a vast majority of Michiganders to get the vaccine. 

To that end, launching a social media campaign might be a great way to encourage others. Earlier in the pandemic, social media lit up with the #MaskUp challenge, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer challenging President Donald Trump. Social media challenges have been remarkably successful making positive action popular, most famously the Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised awareness and money for ALS research.

But getting vaccinated isn’t the end of the story of the pandemic, as Michiganders know. 

Stay Vigilant

Because millions of people need to receive the vaccine, it will take time to reach herd immunity. And a new, more contagious strain of the virus from the United Kingdom has been found in the US, meaning the race toward full vaccination will be a potentially dire one given the increased infectivity of the new strain. That means pandemic precautions will continue to be important long into 2021.

“Remember, it will take some time for the vaccine to be widely distributed to everyone,” said Gov. Whitmer in a Monday statement. “That’s why it’s so important that we all do our part by continuing to properly mask up, practice safe social distancing and avoid indoor gatherings where the virus can easily spread from person to person. We will get through this together.”

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A dire spike in coronavirus cases in November pushed close to 10,000 cases in a single day—according to Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services data, which is monitored daily by The ‘Gander—and strained the public health system once again. As a result, more focused policies preventing high-risk transmission events like indoor dining helped curb that spread, pulling the daily new cases down below 4,000 again. But the impact of the holidays on transmission isn’t known yet.

Thankfully, many Michiganders already intend to continue preventing the spread of COVID-19 through actions like washing hands, keeping a safe distance from others, and wearing masks. 

“I expect to regularly wear a mask for the next 12-18 months, even though I will get the vaccine when offered to me,” Michigander Diane Dininsky told The ‘Gander. “But I know it will take a long time to get this under control.”

Dininsky and many others who talked to The ‘Gander about their masking plans expressed concern about people who are against wearing masks or vaccinations. Science has shown repeatedly the importance of mask wearing in preventing the spread of the pandemic, and the arguments against vaccines as a practice have been thoroughly debunked. Experts have analyzed the safety of the coronavirus vaccines specifically, as well.

Still, Michiganders worry those factors will make getting 70% of Michigan adults vaccinated a challenge, and will make masks and social distancing critical through most of 2021. 

Following Dininsky’s example and encouraging others to do so as well could make the next year vastly different from the last, and could save lives in the process.