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Michigan National Guard assists with COVID-19 vaccinations

By Capt. Joe Legros | Michigan National Guard | Jan. 22, 2021

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TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – The Michigan National Guard teamed with the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department in Lake Ann to vaccinate hundreds of residents with the COVID-19 vaccine this week.

In total, 336 residents signed up to receive the vaccine during the mass vaccination event at the Lake Ann Methodist Church Community Center.

“This is the third event in Lake Ann where we’ve teamed up with the Michigan National Guard,” said event coordinator Autumn Jurek. “Our staff of 40 health care providers is small compared to other communities, so we truly appreciate the assistance from our Guardsmen.”

The district health department covers Benzie County with a population of 17,766 and Leelanau County with a population of 21,761, according to the 2019 census. Before the event, 1,010 residents from these counties had received the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We first received the vaccine in mid-December and immediately administered it to our health care providers on Dec. 18, 2020,” said Jurek. “Those medical first responders issued the first vaccines to community members two days later.”

Jurek’s health department teamed up with six members of the Michigan National Guard’s Task Force Spartan, which was assembled from multiple units across the state. This team is led by noncommissioned officer in charge Spc. Charlotte McFarland with the 1436th Engineer Company based in Montague.

“I never thought anything like this would happen,” said McFarland, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic. “But serving local Michigan residents as a member of this health team is the most rewarding thing I’ve done as a member of the Michigan National Guard.”

This is McFarland’s third time assisting the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department with COVID-19 vaccinations, and she expressed satisfaction with how the community is reacting thus far.

“In one of my previous missions, we had 1,000 residents signed up to receive the vaccine,” said McFarland. “On the day we administered the shots, 975 people arrived for their appointment. Of those who missed, the majority was due to bad weather.”

Despite her part-time status with the Michigan National Guard, McFarland’s team has been on full-time COVID-19 orders since Dec. 13. Along with her engineer unit, the six-member team was assembled from the 1776th Military Police Company in Taylor, the 107th Forward Support Company in Marquette, the 107th Headquarters and Headquarters Company in Ishpeming, the 156th Expeditionary Signal Battalion in Howell and the 177th Military Police Brigade in Taylor.

“We have learned so much by teaming up with our Michigan National Guard counterparts,” said Jurek. “We could not have held such a big event, or administered so many vaccines, without help from these Soldiers.”

Mass vaccine events like the one in Lake Ann occur all over the state based on a systematic order. Michigan prioritized vaccine allocation under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, protecting people at increased risk and ensuring the continuing function of health care systems and essential services.

“This really is a team effort,” said Jurek. “Along with the six Michigan National Guardsmen, we also have six community volunteers with various levels of health care experience.”

The Michigan National Guard provided medical expertise and leadership.

McFarland welcomed residents at the community center door, cross-checked their names and appointment times, then directed them to the appropriate health care provider or volunteer.

Despite the mask covering her face, McFarland’s smile was evident to everyone entering the facility.

“Getting out into the community and serving local residents,” said McFarland. “That’s what I love most about being in the Michigan National Guard.”

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