GRANDVILLE, Mich. — While thousands of people have been given their COVID-19 vaccinations, others are still waiting.
Some of them are high risk and worried about getting the virus and not being able to fight it.
TEEN'S VACCINE STRUGGLE
Devin Niemi of Grandville has not left his house since March. Every time he and his mom ask about getting the shot, all they’re told is he needs to wait.
“Quite honestly, I feel that somebody who has had 10 lung surgeries would be up there on the list to get the vaccine,” said Tracy Niemi, who’s worried about her son.
Devin is currently unable to get the COVID-19 vaccine despite the 17-year-old being extremely high risk of infection.
“They’re just simply saying, ‘Be patient; please wait.’ In Devin’s situation patience is not what we need,” said Tracy.
Devin has spontaneous pneumothorax, meaning his lungs collapse for no reason at all. It’s happened 10 times, and each one resulted in a chest tube and more invasive surgeries.
“He cannot leave the house. There is no way feasible until he gets a vaccine – that is it safe for him to do any kind of normal activity whatsoever,” said Tracy.
Her doctor told her to reach out to their community health center, but she said that ended in a voice recording and dropped call. Then she reached out to the health department and lawmakers.
“It’s a canned response each time and/or they’ll tell you that he’s already in Phase C, which we know that we know he’s in Phase C, which means 'please wait,'” she said.
The waiting game is not wha Devin, and those in similar situations, want to hear.
“If I get coronavirus, then it’s very likely that I won’t actually make it – like even be able to fight the disease, which would, I feel, put me a little bit higher than I am currently,” said Devin. “Having to wait that long--it’s just an unnecessary risk in my opinion.”
A risk they don’t understand after seeing others “jump the line.”
VAN ANDEL FAMILY
Like Kyle Van Andel of the wealthy Amway-founding family.
He posted a recent vaccination card on social media showing he’s 28 years old and just got the Pfizer vaccine on Jan. 18 at Pine Rest.
I reached out to Pfizer asking if families with money can be bumped up and get special treatment.
Pfizer told me:
"Pfizer has nothing to do with the decisions about where vaccine supply goes nor who gets it. Pfizer ships the vaccine wherever specified by the U.S. government. Therefore, questions like this should be directed to the federal and state governments."
I directed that question to Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services.
The agency tells me it's encouraged providers to prioritize individuals age 65 and older, as this age group accounts for 80% of COVID deaths.
But it also says, “We do not want providers to waste vaccine and would rather they provide vaccine to a someone outside of the prioritization groups as opposed to throwing it out if it comes down to it.”
PINE REST RESPONSE
Pine Rest, where Van Andel got his shot, did not want to talk about this case on TV.
However, a spokesperson told me since receiving its first doses of the vaccine on Dec. 21, it’s offered all employees the option to get it but sometimes has some doses left over.
So instead of tossing them, they’ve offered them to members of partner organizations that have helped acquire, transport and store the vaccines.
The Van Andel Institute is one of them.
I’m told VAI provided Pine Rest a second freezer for vaccine storage, and therefore some people with ties to the institute who met state criteria qualified for a shot, like Kyle Van Andel.
Pine Rest told me, “We are confident; however, that all individuals who have received vaccination through Pine Rest have met criteria to be vaccinated as directed by MDHHS.”
KYLE VAN ANDEL'S RESPONSE
I messaged Van Andel on Facebook, and he said I could ask him a question there.
But when I mentioned the social media post and the vaccine, he stopped responding.
So, I contacted a family spokesman who told me he’s confident that all MDHHS guidelines were met and that Kyle is a volunteer at VAI and serves on one of the boards.
He also told me, “Kyle did not ask for the vaccine, it was offered due to meeting certain criteria.”
DEVIN’S WAITING GAME
Niemi’s family isn’t well off like the Van Andels, but Tracy tells me Devin is still a pillar in his community.
“He helps out with the homeless, he volunteers, he does wonderful, generous things on his own behalf--that in itself doesn’t entitle Devin to a vaccine. I believe somebody in that position definitely, definitely should not take away from the vulnerable,” she said.
She’s just hopeful her son doesn’t have to wait much longer.
“I would love, absolutely love, if there was any way, shape or form that this being shared on air would get Devin’s group, the most vulnerable individuals, a chance at getting the vaccine currently now when they need it. They are the essential people. They can’t fight the disease.”
MDHHS tells me Devin’s group (Phase C) has not started vaccinations yet and likely would not get it until May. However, that timeline is based on the number of vaccines MDHHS has been receiving. It is subject to change based on the number of vaccines it gets in.