Q&A with Dr. Catherine Bodnar, Midland County Department of Public Health

Dr. Catherine Bodnar on July 1 will mark three years in her role as the medical director for the Midland County Department of Public Health. That department has been working with MidMichigan Health, pharmacies, and several other organizations since December to administer COVID-19 vaccines. Two of the more visible efforts were the drive-thru clinics at Senior Services and the walk-in clinics at the Midland Center for the Arts. 

In late May, the department’s COVID-19 dashboard indicated 85 confirmed deaths and over 7,300 total cases of COVID in Midland County since the virus first came on the scene in the spring of 2020. There have been over 19,000 deaths in the state.

A COVID-19 vaccination clinic was held at the Midland County Services Building on Saturday, Jan. 30.Bodnar reported that 60% of persons over the age of 16 had received at least one or more doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. She says, “We’re at 51% for COVID-19 vaccine completion of doses [in Midland County].” The State of Michigan’s goal is 70%. To that, Bodnar says, ”Midland County is a county of overachievers, so I figure we can do 80%.”  

Bodnar also reports that “The [COVID-19] positivity rate is also significantly down at 3%, which is just above what is considered a low rate.”

Bodnar joined the county after retiring from a career with Dow. Prior to that, Bodnar worked in private practice. She’s lived in Hope, in northern Midland County, for 12 years. 

Q: What’s your current emphasis?

A: We’ve had a great response to our first vaccine clinic for ages 12-15 and up. The demand was better than we thought it would be (200 registered for the clinic on Wed, May 26; a clinic for those ages in Coleman on Wed, June 2 had 26 people register with a few no shows). We’re aware that some parents are waiting to get their children vaccinated — planning to do it before school starts in the fall — but we are advocating to get them vaccinated as soon as they are able to. Why would you wait? If we see demand, we’ll create more opportunities for this age range. 

A wince is a common response when a vaccine recipient gets a shot in the arm. We look at the population in four groups. The first was eager to do it. They’re done. The second will get it if it’s convenient, so that’s why we try to partner with different groups. The third is hesitant; we’re happy to meet and talk with them. We’ve had several question and answer sessions. No group is too small. The fourth group is not inclined to get vaccinated at all.

We’re working with MidMichigan Health to do an event with the Great Lakes Loons. We’re going to be vaccinating from 5:00-6:00 p.m. before the games on Fridays, June 4 and June 25. We’ll do the J&J (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine. A person will get two tickets — lawn seats. 

We’re also partnering with the Midland Business Alliance (MBA) and MidMichigan Health. The MBA is lending us a van to go around to businesses to vaccinate folks. We’re trying to get to people. We’ve also collected a list of faith-based organizations. We’ve been partnering with Dow, DuPont, and Corteva on immunizing their work populations.

Most of the people who attended the clinic on Jan. 30 received their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.We’ve partnered with 1016 [Recovery Network], Greater Midland Community Center, and the West Midland Family Center; we’ve gone to food distribution events in Coleman and at the North Midland Family Center. We really connect where it makes sense. Some people feel more comfortable getting the vaccine at their health care provider, so we’re allocating more vaccines to those offices. We’re also making sure all the pharmacies are getting the vaccine. 

There are many ways to get vaccinated. The supply currently outpaces the demand.

Q: We had a surge of COVID-19 cases in March; now the numbers are looking much better. What have been your concerns? 

A: When we were in the middle of the surge, we did want to vaccinate but it didn't immediately help with the surge. Now is the time to vaccinate to prevent surges. We’ve had pandemic fatigue … there may end up being a seasonality to COVID — it may remain with us, so we want people to have immunity before late fall to protect yourself, your family, and those who are vulnerable, whose immunity isn’t as strong. We know the virus is changing; it’s always been changing. Variants surface that give the virus the advantage. We want people to get vaccinated so they don’t suffer from the potentially severe effects of the virus.

A drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination clinic was held at the Midland County Senior Services building on Wednesday, Jan. 20.We know the vaccines are not 100% effective. Everyone’s tired of wearing masks. We’ve seen businesses suffer. We want to get back to normal; we need people to get vaccinated. Restrictions are getting removed, but we are worried about what will happen this fall. If the virus doesn’t have as much of a place to go, that’s what we all want. Then, we’re not going to have the surges. 

Q: For people “on the fence” on whether or not to get the vaccine, what’s been the tipping point to get vaccinated?

A: For different people, it’s been different motivations. They’ve seen friends or families with the virus have a bad outcome or they’ve seen friends and family get the vaccine and not have problems with it. Some folks who work in health care who didn’t get it at first are now also getting vaccinated. People also want to have the certain freedoms that people who are vaccinated get. They’re also doing it for loved ones who are vulnerable. 

After receiving the vaccine at the drive-thru clinic, recipients sit in their cars for 15 minutes to be monitored for an immediate allergic reaction.All the vaccines are safe and effective. There’s a video by the MDHHS (Michigan Department of Health and Human Services) where they interviewed people at Ford Field after they were vaccinated about why they got the shot. I really felt very moved and was brought to tears by the reasons people shared. 

Q: What’s next if you’ve already been vaccinated?

A: Pfizer and Moderna are working on booster shots. Johnson & Johnson is studying whether they need to have a second dose. (J&J is a single dose vaccine). They’re looking at a variant-specific booster, specifically the South African variant. None have been approved or recommended at this point. Time will tell whether that will move forward. The feeling is at some point, the booster will be recommended. We are preparing, in case boosters may be needed in the fall. We’re moving towards being able to give the booster and the flu shot at the same time if it’s approved and recommended. 

Read more articles by Ron Beacom.

Ron Beacom has served as the managing editor of Catalyst Midland since October 2020. He's also a freelance writer for the Midland Daily News and the producer/host of "Second Act: Life at 50 Plus" for WDCQ-Delta College Public Media (PBS). He's the co-producer of two WDCQ documentaries about the Tittabawassee River Disaster in 2020. "Breached! and Breached!2-The Recovery."