As the U.S. awaits FDA approval for a COVID-19 vaccine, health departments and hospitals are finalizing strategies for distribution.
However, rural areas in West Michigan may struggle with access and vaccine resource, especially within the Amish community.
Marcus Cheatham, the Health Officer for the Mid Michigan District Health Department said that for the early distribution process for the vaccine, they’ll act as 'coordinators' for connecting people with the vaccine.
Cheatham said, “Most people are going to get it through their healthcare provider, so we will be looking at the gaps in the system; who is not getting it through their healthcare provider? So that could be people in adult foster care folks, like that."
The biggest hurdle for the MMDHD, that serves Montcalm, Clinton, and Gratiot counties, is being a bit behind the curve.
“Some of the higher mortality rates in rural Michigan for chronic disease is just due to our lateness in basic prevention,” Cheatham said. He added that they'll have an additional barrier in vaccinations within the Amish community.
“They are not on TV, they are not on the internet, they are not getting those encouraging health messages that a lot of us see on social media,” Cheatham said, adding it will likely come down to going door-to-door to let those families know that they may qualify for a vaccine if they're high-risk or over 65 early on.
He said, “When we have had some outbreaks of things like Pertussis or things like that, families have come in to get vaccinated, and we expect that is what will happen again. We will just need to get the information out to them."
The MMDHD has been overwhelmed with contact-tracing efforts, and since they can't access many Amish families on the phone, they're unsure how COVID-19 has affected them but feels that they've likely stayed away from big gatherings.
“Of course those events in the general population have spread of COVID like wildfire unfortunately,” Cheatham said, “I hope the Amish have been somewhat protected from that."
While there may be concerns about potential religious barriers in the Amish community, Cheatham said that they’ve found certain groups within the community are receptive to medical care, and they have built strong relationships with the health department.
Cheatham said he is most concerned with the general public accepting a vaccine that's so new, even with its promising trials.
He said, “The consensus that used to be there for prevention in the United States is no longer there, so everything that we're doing now, we are running into the challenge of people not trusting the science or not feeling that prevention is an activity that the government should be involved in."
Cheatham said that they expect to be able to vaccinate healthcare workers and people in long-term care facilities in their area starting in January and move into phase two distributions for the high-risk population by February.