Dr. Darryl Elmouchi got the notice Sunday night that the package was on the way. The cardiologist, who serves as president of West Michigan’s largest hospital system, got an alert through Spectrum Health’s command center, saying the initial shipment of 975 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine was on the way.
“It literally felt like we were receiving a package from Amazon or Best Buy,” Elmouchi said during a Zoom call with media on Monday.
Spectrum Health’s main hospital, Butterworth, is a one-hour drive from the Pfizer facility in Portage where workers are churning out thousands of doses of the first vaccine approved in the U.S. to protect against the disease that’s now killed more than 300,000 Americans.
West Michigan has been hit especially hard in recent weeks. Spectrum has been forced to cancel some elective surgeries, and expand its ICU teams to handle an influx of COVID patients.
But Monday morning, the first dose of hope arrived, via UPS delivery.
Elmouchi said a team met at the loading dock to sign for the shipment.
“Quite honestly, it felt like a spiritual moment for me personally, just holding on to what really is hope for all of humanity,” Elmouchi said.
On the opposite side of the state, Michigan Medicine received a similar delivery, around the same time in Ann Arbor.
Teams at both hospitals began preparing the vaccine to be administered to frontline staff who come in contact with COVID patients. CNN had a camera crew in Ann Arbor, documenting the process there live.
But it was Spectrum in Grand Rapids that had the vaccine ready first.
At 12:04 p.m on Monday, Dr. Marc McClelland rolled up his sleeve and got the shot in his shoulder.
“There was a huge amount of emotion in that room at the time,” McClelland said on the Zoom call. “I think it’s just huge for society and humanity that this is now available.”
McClelland is a pulmonologist at the hospital who works in the Intensive Care Unit. He’s been working for months treating patients who “are very sick.”
He was the first of five staff members at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids who got the vaccine on Monday.
“I consider it a blessing to be one of the first people to get the vaccine, because this means we’re getting somewhere,” said Yvette Kamana, an ICU nurse, who was among the five to receive the vaccine at Spectrum Health on Monday.
“We’ve lost quite a lot of patients, and we see a lot of patients that are critically ill,” Kamana said. “So I have to say it’s taken a toll on our emotions and our own physical being.”
Kamana said she looks forward to when more people can get the vaccine.
“It’s time for us to stand out for each other, and help each other,” she said. “Getting vaccinated is not just protecting me, it’s protecting my family, protecting my patients.”
Spectrum says it expects to ramp up vaccinations starting Tuesday. It expects to receive 5,000 doses of the vaccine by the end of the week.
Meanwhile, most other health systems in Michigan are still awaiting their first shipments.
Beaumont Health, Henry Ford Health System, and Sparrow Health System say they could receive those doses as early as tomorrow, and begin vaccinating soon after. According to Beaumont spokesperson Bob Ortlieb, the hospital system had been hoping the shipment would arrive Monday.
The Ann Arbor VA, which was selected as one of 37 VA sites to receive doses in this first wave of shipments, expects that parcel to come in Tuesday, and to start its injections Thursday or Friday.
Bronson Healthcare, whose Bronson Methodist Hospital is located six miles from the Pfizer facility in Portage, hasn’t yet received its initial 1,950 doses, but should in the next few days, according to spokesperson Carolyn Wyllie.
Other hospital systems in the state — including Trinity Health Michigan and Munson Healthcare — say their shipments should land at their doorsteps sometime this week.