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West Michigan plays key role in vaccine production, distribution

filephoto pfizer vaccine
Posted at 10:07 PM, Dec 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-13 21:22:43-05

PORTAGE, Mich. — As states across the United States prepare to start immunizing people with Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, West Michigan is playing a key role in the production and distribution of it.

Saturday Pfizer announced the first doses of its coronavirus vaccine are “expected” to leave its Portage facility Sunday morning.

“It’s very exciting, it’s long anticipated, it is definitely hope for all of humanity,” said Patricia Randall, mayor.

Randall says she is appreciative the citizens who played a part in this process.

“It isn’t just the employees of Pfizer that we’re proud of,” said Randall. “We’re proud of the teachers that are teaching the Pfizer children. We are proud of the restaurants that are having to go meals. We are grateful to the families that have family members working at Pfizer over the holiday season”

“The rest of the world will be enjoying the benefits of a healthy corporation that has been able to thrive in the City of Portage Michigan for years to come, so it’s been a long nine months for everybody and I think the optimism and the hope that this vaccine provides for not only Portage Michigan, but the world as well is a gift for the holidays that we will never forget,” said Randall.

Once the doses leave Portage, they’re expected to head north to Grand Rapids. The Gerald R. Ford International Airport says its ready to serve as a national and international gateway for distribution after preparing to do so for the last month.

“Our effort right now is just working with the carriers… to understand what is that operating environment like for them,” said Stephen Clark, director of commercial development. “What our team has been focused on right now is safety and security and working with any potential carriers that might be coming to understand what it would be like to operate here. In particular, we take them through that supply chain and understanding how does that vaccine move from the manufacturer to the airport onto the aircraft and then onto its final destination.”

The airport lists its 10,000 foot runway, dedicated cargo facility, and needed ground supply as reasons why it’s qualified to handle the job.

Officials could not confirm if vaccines would fly out Sunday, but said it’s a possibility. Clark says it depends on the shipment’s ability to meet safety, security, and storage standards earlier in the distribution process.

Ford airport is a hub for FedEx and UPS who are the two carriers tasked with delivering the vaccines in the United States.

“It’s personal for us,” said Clark. “This is an opportunity for our airline partners, their staff, to be a hero for the globe for all citizens and to be a part of that line of heroes of doctors and nurses and scientists and all of those people that we’ve been celebrating”

After being shipped out, they’ll end up in hospitals like Spectrum Health. There, healthcare workers with direct COVID-19 patient care responsibilities will be the first to get vaccinated. Spectrum has set up clinics and even completed a few “dry runs” of vaccinations according to one doctor.

“There certainly is, I think a sense of, ‘Yes, now I can feel more protected,’” said Dr. Russell Lampen, an infectious disease doctor at Spectrum Health. “We know that that this level of patient burden, that this level of disease in our intensive care units, these levels of admissions for respiratory failure, that this isn't going to continue indefinitely. We are going to get the upper hand on this and that we will be able to get this pandemic under control.”