Long-term care patient Carlos Alegre receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from licensed vocational nurse Virgie Vivar at Birch Patrick Skilled Nursing Facility at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center on December 21, 2020 in Chula Vista, California. 72-year-old Alegre is the first patient to receive the vaccine in San Diego County. Long-term care patients and frontline workers are among those in the CDC’s highest priority group for vaccination. Photo by Mario Tama via Getty.
Long-term care patient Carlos Alegre receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from licensed vocational nurse Virgie Vivar at Birch Patrick Skilled Nursing Facility at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center on December 21, 2020 in Chula Vista, California. 72-year-old Alegre is the first patient to receive the vaccine in San Diego County. Long-term care patients and frontline workers are among those in the CDC’s highest priority group for vaccination.

Workers at Beaumont Health know that history turns on this moment. The work they’re doing is ending the worst health crisis in a century. Here’s their message to Michigan.

ROYAL OAK, Mich.—Valerie Billups sees long lines when she gets into work. The lines move quickly, but her job has become increasingly busy since December. She’s a nurse with Beaumont Health and administers the coronavirus vaccines to Michiganders each day.

She loves the job.

“It’s busy, it’s exciting, it’s joyous,” Billups told The ‘Gander. “You’re just giving people hope and people are so grateful.”

The work is deeply rewarding to those involved in the vaccination campaign, and Billups explained that sense of satisfaction as knowing she’s making a difference. She’s part of something bigger than herself, something that’s working to end one of the greatest trials of her lifetime. Putting the vaccine in someone’s arm isn’t just about the moment, it’s about the future.

RELATED: Keep Going Michigan: The Largest Vaccination Campaign in Human History Is Here

“I’m thankful to be part of making history, you know, being part of saving maybe thousands of lives,” she said. “The look in people’s eyes, it’s giving them hope that hopefully this vaccine is gonna be the end.”

A Nurse’s Advice to the Vaccine Hesitant

And when Beaumont does have doses in stock and the time comes for Michiganders in Royal Oak to be vaccinated , Billups has reassurances for those who are nervous. 

“Doing something is better than doing nothing,” she said. “If you have questions, research it. Talk to your doctors. That’s all we can do, and trust and see what science has to offer us.”

She used the example of a patient who was concerned about the impacts of the vaccine on her pregnancy. Billups suggested talking to her OB-GYN about her questions. She explained to The ‘Gander that pregnant OB-GYNs are getting vaccinated themselves as the vaccines are currently considered safe for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding. 

SEE ALSO: Michigan COVID-19 Vaccine Questions, Answered

Billups puts a lot of faith in the scientific process that led to the various vaccines. It was a popular sense of urgency and trust in science that led to the rapid development of the vaccine in the first place, as people willing to participate in clinical trials were in no short supply. Of course, the reason so many people were ready to participate was, in part, the widespread growth of the virus. And that infectivity is sharply increased by a new variant of the coronavirus that has entered Michigan

“Don’t be overconfident that you can’t catch COVID-19 because it could cost you your life,” Billups cautioned. “Don’t let your guard down, because this is serious. This is worldwide.”

Rising to the Challenge

Dr. Jeffrey Fischgrund, a spinal surgeon and chief of clinical services for Beaumont Health, shares Billups’ sense of taking part in history. But the chapter in history is off to a rocky start, with too few vaccines on hand to meet the expectations of the largely eager public. As of Thursday, Beaumont had administered nearly 50,000 doses of the vaccine, with more than 12,000 fully immunized.

“From a high-level logistic administrator view, we’re doing something that has never been done before,” he told The ‘Gander. “It’s very frustrating but very rewarding at the same time.”

Fischgrund’s role coordinating clinical services for Beaumont has grown immeasurably, in ways he couldn’t have anticipated. He sees patients in the clinic, but also travels across Beaumont’s system throughout metro Detroit to monitor vaccine operations and open new vaccination sites. He still performs surgeries, but most of his time now is dedicated to ensuring as smooth a deployment of the vaccine as possible. That hasn’t been easy with the shortage of doses Michigan has seen and the resulting slow rollout of inoculations. 

READ MORE: Michigan Needs More Vaccines to Fight New Coronavirus Variants

He understands that people want to be vaccinated, but there aren’t yet enough doses. Beaumont recently entered Phase 1B of Michigan’s vaccination queue, which includes Michiganders over 65 years old. However, giving the first dose to that population alone would nearly consume the state’s entire vaccine supply in a given week.

“The vaccine is really still in a very limited supply,” he told The ‘Gander. “Even in just our database at Beaumont Health, we have 500,000 people that are 65 and older. Last week, the state only got 60,000 doses of the vaccine.”

As Fischgrund explained, vaccines are owned by the government, not by the hospital, so Beaumont’s role in determining the volume of vaccine on hand is limited. He encouraged patience on the part of Michganders eager to get the vaccine, though, as it is coming.

In no small part, it’s on the way thanks to President Joe Biden invoking the Defense Production Act to ramp up the manufacturing and purchasing of the vaccine. The Act allows the government to ensure that priority is given to the entire supply chain necessary to produce the vaccine, the first step in a new national strategy Biden has laid out. 

“We feel confident that we can meet our 100 million shots in 100 days,” Jeff Zients, who is coordinating Biden’s coronavirus response, said on a call with reporters. “But that is really just the start of where we need to be. We have to vaccinate as much of the U.S. population as possible to put this pandemic behind us, but we don’t have the infrastructure.”

KEEP UP TO DATE: The Countdown: Tracking the Vaccine Rollout and the End of COVID