We are grateful for this opportunity to communicate with Dr. Joneigh S. Khaldun, Chief Medical Executive and Chief Deputy Director for Health for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, regarding the COVID-19 vaccine to inform our readers about updates and what to expect on this topic.
Thanks to Dr. Khaldun and the precautionary measures that have been taken in our state, we have a low level of deceased persons compared to other states. We understand that from the experience of having worked in the Detroit health department, you understand very well what it is to work with minorities.
Joneigh S. Khaldun, MD, MPH, FACEP
Chief Medical Executive and Chief Deputy Director for Health
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services
1. Knowing that the Hispanic community is fearful of the COVID-19 vaccine, what publicity and dissemination campaigns
(bilingual) is the state preparing to reach the 80% who are afraid of getting vaccinated? This, taking into account the conservative thinking of many of our families.
It is understandable for people to be concerned about the COVID-19 vaccines and their safety. However, it is important to know that the process for approving a vaccine is based on science, fact, and data from tens of thousands of people who have participated in trials. The vaccines will only be approved if all the data is reviewed and they are shown to be safe and effective.
The State of Michigan is partnering with local health departments, education, business, and community leaders to communicate about the vaccine. We will be ensuring that our campaign includes advertising and direct outreach to Michigan’s Hispanic community, and will include publications such as the Latino Times. Making materials available in multiple languages will be very important.
2. When will the vaccine be available and will it cost anything?
Currently, two COVID-19 vaccines are being reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and medical and scientific experts. If a vaccine is approved, Michigan will receive a limited initial supply for distribution to healthcare personnel and long-term care facilities, likely before the end of the year.
While there may be a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines before the end of 2020, supply will continually increase in the weeks and months that follow. If a vaccine is approved before the end of 2020, Michigan anticipates being able to begin vaccinating the broader public sometime in the spring and summer of 2021.
The State of Michigan is working to make the COVID-19 vaccine free or low-cost for Michiganders. The vaccine will be free, although providers will be able to bill insurance for administrative costs. Nobody can be denied the vaccine due to the inability to pay an administration fee.
3. Who will be responsible for administering the vaccine and where should people go? (Hospitals, community clinics or private doctors).
Vaccine will be available through many locations all across the state, including doctors’ offices, retail pharmacies, hospitals, and federally qualified health centers. Michigan is working with the federal government and local healthcare providers to prepare sites to receive vaccine as soon as one is approved.
Early in the COVID-19 response, the federal government began investing in select vaccine manufacturers to help them increase their ability to quickly make and distribute a large amount of COVID-19 vaccine. This will allow the United States to start with as much vaccine as possible once a vaccine is approved, and continually increase the supply in the weeks and months to follow. The goal is for everyone to be able to easily get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as large quantities are available.
4. Will there be a general information phone number to resolve doubts (bilingual)?
Michigan’s coronavirus hotline experts will be available to share information about the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as our email box COVID19@michigan.gov for those with both English or Spanish needs. Residents can call 888-535-6136 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to ask questions. While this line is available for residents who have general COVID-19-related questions, I also strongly encourage you to discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider who can ensure you receive the appropriate medical advice for your individual needs. We will also have information available in multiple languages on our website www.michigan.gov/COVIDVaccine.
5. When, during the year, do you think the Hispanic community will receive the vaccine, considering that this community is more prone to depression during the winter due to family separation, immigration status, etc.?
Vaccine distribution will be based on the prioritization plan recommended and approved by our federal partners and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (an independent group of medical and public health experts who review data on new and existing vaccines and diseases). Unfortunately, in the beginning vaccine supply will be very limited, and we do not expect it to be available for the general public until the late Spring.
I recognize that this has been a challenging year for everyone, and has impacted our minority communities particularly hard. It is vitally important that people seek support for any mental health concerns they may have. Michigan has launched our Stay Well effort to support residents who may be feeling emotional distress due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I encourage residents to visit Michigan.gov/StayWell or call the COVID-19 Hotline at 1-888-535-6136. Press “8” to talk to a Michigan Stay Well counselor – available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for confidential, free support. This line also offers bilingual services for Spanish-speaking residents.
6. What is the message that you send to our Hispanic community so that they know more about the vaccine and trust their results?
It is important that everyone knows that no steps in the vaccine approval process have been skipped. Only after a rigorous review of data and facts will a vaccine be allowed. The current vaccines that are in the approval process have been shown to be over 90% effective. Most adults will be eligible to receive the vaccine eventually, and it is important that you start planning now. You should know that for the initial vaccines that may be approved by Pfizer and Moderna, you will need 2 doses, 3 or 4 weeks apart, for the vaccine to work. Make sure you don’t skip your second dose. You should also know that the vaccine works by making your body prepare to fight the real virus if it comes into contact with it. This means that when you get the vaccine, you know it is working if you feel things like a low grade fever, or a sore arm. That is a sign the vaccine is working and should be expected. More information about the specific vaccines will be available on our website once they are approved. You can learn more about the vaccine and the vaccine approval process at www.michigan.gov/COVIDVaccine.
7. Do you think would it be convenient to form a team within the Hispanic community to help you better disseminate this information? (Representatives such as a doctor, social worker, media representative, teacher, etc.)
I think public health works best when leaders engage with the communities they serve and work directly with them. I welcome the opportunity to connect with leaders in the Hispanic community to disseminate all vaccine information as we learn more about the vaccines pending approval, as well as our overall response to COVID-19.
Any additional comments or information that you consider important to add for our readers, please include it.
While vaccines will start to be distributed as early as December 2020, it is important that people recognize that they still have to do all the important things like wearing masks every time they are indoors around people outside of their household, washing hands frequently, and social distancing. The vaccines will take some time to be disseminated widely, and these are still the most important things we can do to prevent the spread of the disease and save lives.