vaccine Pfizer Kalamazoo Virus Outbreak Vaccine Race
In this screen grab from video issued by Britain's Oxford University, a volunteer is injected with either an experimental COVID-19 vaccine or a comparison shot as part of the first human trials in the U.K. to test a potential vaccine, led by Oxford University in England on April 25, 2020. About 100 research groups around the world are pursuing vaccines against the coronavirus, with nearly a dozen in early stages of human trials or poised to start. (University of Oxford via AP)

An OBGYN delivering vaccines. A retired pharmacist running a clinic. Michigan’s healthcare community is all-hands-on-deck to fight COVID-19

In the Michigan medical community, the COVID-19 pandemic has become an all-hands-on-deck situation. Doctors, pharmacists, and other healthcare workers have volunteered to either transport or administer the COVID-19 vaccine, even though those tasks usually are not in their job description. 

Dr. Richard Bates drove almost 150 miles last year to transport a cooler carrying 130 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine from the MidMichigan Medical Center in Midland to their hospital in Alpena, as CNN reported. Bates, an OB-GYN and the regional vice president of medical affairs at MidMichigan Health, played a pivotal role in delivering the COVID-19 vaccine to the state’s remote parts.

The six-hour trek from Midland to Alpena and back takes place mostly on two-lane roads because of Alpena’s distance from the interstate, but it was a trip Bates said was worth taking.

“Seeing our staff receive the vaccine was an unbelievable experience, much like delivering a new baby and handing that baby off to parents, who have just spent months and sometimes years thinking and dreaming and placing their hopes in that baby,” he told CNN. “To see our staff with tears and taking pictures of them getting the vaccine and sharing it with their families—it was quite special.”

Like Bates, retired pharmacist Mike Tiberg was also ready and willing to lend a hand to the COVID-19 vaccination efforts in Michigan. When COVID-19 hit the Mitten, Tiberg came out of retirement to help prepare and deliver the vaccines to medical workers. Initially, Mike Tiberg felt powerless when the coronavirus hit the state. 

“My primary specialization while practicing was infectious disease pharmacy,” he told The ‘Gander in January. “Now that I’m retired, it’s kind of like standing on the sidelines and watching the whole process take place. It was difficult for me to do that.”

When the vaccine rollout commenced, Munson Medical Center in Grand Traverse County asked Tiberg to return in December to help with the mass vaccination campaign. The call was what Tiberg was waiting for, and the reaction from the community was a bonus.

“The rewarding part for me is just getting to see the gratitude of individuals who are getting the vaccine,” he explained. “Many times they’re frontline workers who have been exposed or who have even had COVID along the way … and are very willing, able, and wanting the vaccine.”  

Now, with the statewide expansion of the COVID-19 vaccine eligibility that took place on Monday, more Michigan residents beyond frontline and essential workers are getting vaccinated. Residents aged 50 and older and those 16 and older with medical conditions and disabilities and their caregivers are now eligible. Starting April 15, eligibility opens to most Michiganders 16 and older. 

So far, according to data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, more than 3.3 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the state as of Wednesday. That’s 27.1% of Michiganders who’ve received at least one dose of the vaccine, and Michigan healthcare workers are ready to administer thousands of more doses.