Michigan doctor drives personal vehicle to deliver vaccines to rural hospital
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A Michigan doctor is driving his personal vehicle more than 140 miles to deliver the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to rural hospitals in the northern part of the state.

Richard Bates plans to continue to take his Honda on the three-hour trek between Midland, Mich., and Alpena, Mich., for the next several weeks to get doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to rural areas faster, The Washington Post reported Monday. 

The first doses of the vaccine distributed throughout the U.S. have mainly gone to large medical facilities in cities, forcing rural health care workers to wait for their turn to get vaccinated. But Bates is part of Michigan’s solution to bring vaccines to people in rural areas at the same time as the people in Detroit. 

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For his trips, Bates brings a blue cooler with scores of doses of the vaccine from MidMichigan Medical Center-Midland to a rural community hospital in Alpena every five days. He made his first vaccine delivery to the area almost two weeks ago, according to the Post.

“I drove up and I’m just going through all those small towns and I’m thinking, how? My mind was just running,” he said. “All of this for this many people? Imagine trying to vaccinate whole towns.”

“Thinking about what we’re doing today and what needs to be done,” he added, according to the Post. “I think the challenge is ahead of us.”

MidMichigan Health ended up with some of the first doses in the state after its lead pharmacist purchased two freezers in October in case the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine would be approved later. The Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines earlier this month.

Northern Michigan, where Bates delivers the doses, saw its surge in cases in the fall with a high point during the weeks after Thanksgiving. While COVID-19 daily cases now appear to be leveling, hospitalizations continue to rise in the rural area with a limited number of health care workers.

The community hospital serves about 100,000 people in northern Michigan, with the Post noting it’s not unusual for people to travel 60 miles to reach the hospital.

Overall, Alpena County has seen 1,124 COVID-19 cases and 24 deaths, according to state data

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention has reported that more than 2.1 million people have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and more than 11.4 million doses have been distributed.