Residents of Oak Park’s JSL Coville Apartments and Prentis Apartment 1 received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine on Jan. 4.
Residents of Oak Park’s JSL Coville Apartments and Prentis Apartment 1 received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine on Jan. 4. (Jeff Kowalsky)

Members of the Detroit Jewish community share their stories about playing pivotal roles in distributing the lifesaving COVID-19 vaccine injection throughout the area.

As 2021 begins, many hope the year will bring a return to normalcy with the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. And members of the Detroit Jewish community are playing pivotal roles in distributing the lifesaving injection throughout the area.

From frontline and healthcare workers being the first ones to receive the vaccine, to those who worked on the vaccine trials, to ordinary citizens participating in the trials, here are some of their stories.

‘A Miracle’

Dr. Bruce Adelman, who specializes in anesthesiology for Henry Ford Health System (HFHS), received the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 17, one of the first five people at the West Bloomfield hospital to get it.

“I think it’s nothing short of a miracle that the vaccine is finally here, because it feels like we’ve been talking about it for so long, but in the vaccine world, it’s been a remarkably short amount of time,” Adelman said. “It decreases the risks significantly for us in the health care setting, and it shows the population at large that it’s a good thing to do.”

Dr. Bruce Adelman
Dr. Bruce Adelman of Henry Ford Health System Rolls up his sleeve to get the vaccine. Courtesy of HFHS

The logistics of receiving and organizing the vaccine distribution have been a herculean effort, Adelman said.

Initially, employees were surveyed about who was willing to get the vaccine, who had already tested positive and the department in which they work, all factors which helped determine eligibility.

Employees went through MyChart, the electronic program the hospital system uses to set up appointments.

Employees included in the first tier of vaccinations included emergency room physicians and staff, operating room staff, and the anesthesia, ENT (ear, nose and throat) and critical care departments, according to Adelman.

The vaccine arrived at the Henry Ford West Bloomfield loading dock at 10 a.m. that day, with employee health techs primarily giving out the shots, and some nurses stepping in to help so they could vaccinate as many people as possible.

“Sitting there waiting for it, it was really an emotional, visceral feeling that I had,” Adelman said.

“When I look at the pictures, I look really serious, but that’s only because I was just trying to hold it together.”

Adelman described the actual shot as “pretty painless” and “much less discomfort relative to a flu shot.” Once he took it, he had to go to a recovery area to be monitored for 15-20 minutes to make sure there were no immediate side effects.

In the first roll-out wave, each of HFHS’ campuses received 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. At the West Bloomfield hospital, 80 people were vaccinated on the first day and more than 100 on the second day.

As of Jan. 8, 18,000 HFHS team members either received or were scheduled to receive the vaccine. HFHS had originally planned to roll out the vaccine through a tiered system based on the most at-risk employees, but they received more shipments of the vaccine than anticipated, which helped speed up their efforts.

After going through the process of receiving the first dose, Adelman made an appointment for his second dose, which was 21 days later on Jan. 7.

Adelman’s message to the public is to continue following the guidelines of mask wearing and social distancing, and to get the vaccine when available.

“The risks of not getting the vaccine are way higher than the risk of taking the vaccine,” Adelman said.

“We need to do it for ourselves, for our children, for our parents and for each other.”

Seniors Secured

Barbra Giles, executive director of strategic initiatives for Jewish Senior Life, played a pivotal role in getting the vaccine to JSL.

In October, Giles enrolled JSL in the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program offered via CVS Pharmacy, applying for clinic dates for residents, staff and designated caregivers.

Giles, along with residents of Oak Park’s JSL Coville Apartments and Prentis Apartment 1, received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine on Jan. 4.

JSL is having three vaccine clinic dates for each of its six buildings: the first date to administer the first dose; the second date where residents can get the second dose and those who missed the first date can get their first dose; and a third date for the residents who missed the first date to receive their second dose. 

“It was a fantastic experience, the staff and residents were excited to participate, and it was a wonderful sense in the air about hope and moving forward into a new phase of normalcy,” Giles said of the monumental day.

Giles also said residents reminisced about other vaccines they’ve received in their lives.

“We heard a lot about when they got the polio vaccine the first time and how much this reminded them of when they were children, of that experience,” Giles said. “It was very interesting.”

Four stations were set up at the clinic, which began at 11 a.m. and finished around 4 p.m. More than 130 people were administered the first dose that day.

Most long-term care facilities will be receiving the Moderna vaccine due to the specific refrigeration and temperature needs the Pfizer vaccine calls for.

The residents were monitored for 15 minutes after receiving the vaccine, and wellness checks were done the morning after for every resident. The follow-up clinic for Coville and Prentiss 1 takes place Feb. 1.

JSL scheduled its next clinic for the first doses for Jan. 12-15, covering five buildings in that time span.

Nancy Heinrich, CEO of JSL, also received the first dose of the vaccine on Jan. 4 and said a couple residents and staff have had minor side effects, but they all seem to be doing well.

“We’re just thrilled, and we view this as a beginning of a new chapter and the end of the 2020 chapter, and we couldn’t be happier for our residents and the community at large as this continues to roll out,” she said. “Every journey starts with the first step, and we’re just happy to be on this journey.”

Beaumont Logistics

Dr. Jeffrey Fischgrund, chairman of the Department of Orthopedics at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak and chief of Clinical Services for Beaumont Health, led clinical operations for Beaumont’s COVID response and was heavily involved with a large team leading the vaccination efforts to roll it out in a short time.

Dr. Jeffrey Fischgrund
Dr. Jeffrey Fischgrund gives a thumbs-up after receiving the vaccine. Courtesy of Dr. Jeffrey Fischgrund

The Beaumont vaccinations started on Dec. 15; Fischgrund received the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 22. Like Henry Ford, the highest priority healthcare workers were identified, from everyone in the emergency department and COVID floors to the people who draw blood and clean the rooms.

“They’re all vital to keep the hospital running, so that made up 11,000 people across our eight-hospital system,” Fischgrund said.

When describing the logistics of the facilities receiving the vaccine, Fischgrund made clear that the vaccine is owned by the federal government, and that their shipment is totally dependent on what their need is and what the state can give to them.

“The federal government gives it to the state, the state gives it to us, and then we have to act as stewards of the vaccine,” Fischgrund said.

Beaumont has eight sites and a central administrative building, and each site gets the same distribution from the state. As a health system, though, Beaumont chose to consolidate for safety and efficacy, with all doses going to the administrative building, where the vaccine clinic with pharmacists and nurses is set up.

“It’s just been nonstop day-by-day issues we’ve had to face since March that we’ve never seen before,” Fischgrund said, reflecting on the past year before the rollout. “This is the first positive COVID news we’ve had in almost nine months, and it’s just such a relief to see the faces of the people getting the vaccine. There’s such joy and happiness that we can start turning the corner.”

According to Fischgrund, Beaumont Health has vaccinated more than 13,500 healthcare professionals as of Jan. 4 and will soon have capacity to vaccinate more than 3,000 people a day.

Researcher’s Pride

Kate Zenlea, managing director of HFHS’ Global Health Initiative and the hospital’s Phase III vaccine trial for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, said the authorization of the Moderna vaccine they worked so hard on garners a sigh of relief and positive reflection.

Dr. Kate Zenlea
Dr. Kate Zenlea Courtesy of Kate Zenlea

“Throughout the whole trial, the theme has resonated with all of us just how historic this time is, and years from now we’re all going to look back and remember the impact we had on curbing the pandemic,” Zenlea said. “Everyone was just very grateful and very excited to see all their hard work, their grit, their sacrifices and long hours come to fruition.”

With her first-hand knowledge on the difference between the authorized Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, Zenlea says the two vaccines use very similar technologies.

“There’s really very little difference between the vaccines,” Zenlea said. “The only true difference is the temperature at which each vaccine needs to be stored. The Pfizer vaccine does need to be kept colder than the Moderna, but that doesn’t really impact the receiver all that much.”

Zenlea said HFHS created an algorithm based on employees’ occupational risk, their age and their co-morbidities to determine when they receive the vaccine.

The next step in the process, according to Zenlea, includes the participants’ option to become unblinded, which means they can be told if they received the vaccine or the placebo in the trial if they want to. For those who received the placebo, they will be offered the Moderna vaccine that same day. For those who received the vaccine as part of their participation in the study, they won’t be offered anything since they’re already vaccinated. The unblinding process began Jan. 6, and includes bringing in 700+ participants, which could take a month or two.

Zenlea received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, the only COVID vaccine currently being offered to Henry Ford employees, on New Year’s Eve.

“It was incredible to receive the vaccine on the last day of 2020,” Zenlea said. “Brought everything full-circle.”

Vaccine Trial

Moses Fridman, a resident of West Bloomfield, is currently a participant in the HFHS Moderna trial. When the pandemic started, Fridman was hopeful there would be a trial in the area, wanting to do anything he could to help.

Moses Fridman
Moses Fridman Courtesy of Moses Fridman

“I’m not a physician or a public health professional, but I saw this as an opportunity to do something against the pandemic, more than just staying home and wearing a mask,” Fridman said.

Fridman volunteered for the Moderna trial and was accepted, eventually going to Henry Ford Hospital in September to fill out the consent forms and the intake questionnaire as well as take part in the double-blinded injection process.

Fridman said he didn’t have much reaction to the first injection, just a sore arm. He got his second injection a month later, again feeling the sore arm, but then for the next half-a-day or so, he felt “rotten.”

“I felt nauseous and had chills and a nasty headache,” Fridman said. “So, I took an ibuprofen, laid down and took a nap. By nighttime, I was feeling close to normal again and by the next day I was feeling normal.”

While Fridman didn’t know if he received the trial vaccine or the placebo, his curiosity got the best of him, and he went to Kroger and paid out-of-pocket to get a rapid antibody test. The test eventually came back positive for the IGG antibody, which indicates an individual may have had the virus in the recent past and which may protect an individual from future infection.

Because of the mixture of the minor side effects and the result of the antibody testing, Fridman, although not certain, believes he received the vaccine and not the placebo.

While that may be the case, Fridman said he’s not in a hurry to get unblinded because if he indeed got the vaccine, he realizes his data is more valuable to the study if he stays blinded and continues practicing the safe measures of masking and social distancing for a longer period.

Fridman said he’s proud to help in any way and would encourage others to get the vaccine when it’s available to them.

“A half a day of mild to moderate discomfort compared to the risks of what can happen if you get COVID, I think I think it’s almost a no-brainer.”

Do you know other COVID “vaccine heroes” for the Jewish News to profile? Let us know: letters@thejewishnews.com.

What You Need to Know About the Vaccine

The state of Michigan is rolling out the vaccine in phases and in order of those deemed most at-risk, including the first groups to receive the vaccine, which were healthcare workers and long-term care residents and staff.

Officials announced that the state was to move to a new phase of vaccination Jan. 11. The new vaccination phase includes anyone over age 65 and frontline essential workers, including police officers, first responders, frontline state and federal workers, jail and prison staff, as well as preK-12 teachers and childcare providers.

Dr. Betty Chu, HFHS Associate Chief Clinical Officer and Chief Quality Officer, says HFHS is in the planning stages of opening four clinic sites and two mass vaccination sites next week in accordance with the new vaccination phases.

Chu says there will be a couple of channels for people to receive the vaccine once it becomes widely available, including the health system and community health department, but urges patience.

“We’re talking about millions of people, and the infrastructure to vaccinate that many people is being built at the same time the infrastructure in the healthcare system is already very busy treating COVID patients,” Chu said. “We’ll probably be tapping into volunteer workforces to assist us with the efforts because our goal is to get as many shots in arms as possible and to really help the population get out of this pandemic.”

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