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Detroiters excited for first day of mass vaccinations at TCF Center

Longtime Detroiter Marilyn Robinson doesn't usually smile while getting a shot but on Wednesday morning Robinson was grinning from ear-to-ear under her bedazzled mask as she received the first dose of a vaccine for COVID-19. 

For the 89-year-old, getting the vaccine marked the beginning of the end of worrying about the coronavirus pandemic. 

Robinson was one of 400 people who were scheduled to receive doses of vaccine during the first day of Detroit's mass vaccination effort at the TCF Center. 

"I'm very relieved to get the shot. I'm looking forward to getting my next one in February so I'll be protected completely," Robinson said. "It's either that or I'm going to die and I'm not ready yet."

Starting at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Detroit residents age 75 older, and some 65 or older who were "good neighbor" drivers for more elderly residents, drove into the two basement levels of the TCF Center's garage on Atwater Street. 

People were checked in with their ID and directed to an area with multiple lanes of people getting vaccinated while still in their cars. 

After receiving the first dose, residents were told to wait 15 minutes before leaving. The process was expected to take 35 to 40 minutes per vehicle depending on the volume of those waiting. 

"I do believe this is the beginning of the end," Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said. "Yesterday, I had my second shot so in another week I will go visit my grandkids for the first time since before Thanksgiving. This is the first step to getting our lives back." 

On Tuesday, Duggan announced the city's plan to provide 20,000 coronavirus vaccinations by early February if the state is able to maintain an adequate supply.

Detroit plans to distribute 600 dozes of the vaccine at the TCF Center on Thursday, 800 on Friday and 1,000 each day next week.

Detroit is currently offering vaccinations to residents over age 75 and any "good neighbor" driver, 65 or older, who accompanies them to the TCF Center, as well as essential workers including K-12 teachers and childcare workers. The city also ramped up vaccinations of critical workers including police officers and bus drivers.

"We'll lower the age limit I think in the next few days," Duggan said. "We're going to schedule all the way through the first week of February and we're going to have the ability to lower the age limit I believe in the next couple of days."

Mildred White said she has never been one to get vaccinated, adding she's had just three flu shots in her lifetime. The COVID-19 vaccine was an obvious choice, she said. 

"It's like a cloud hanging over us every day and I've seen people that are so sick on this virus and they tell us the only thing we can do is have the vaccine," White said. "I'm not a vaccine person but for this one... I listened to the scientists and said, 'I'm in.'"

White said she booked her appointment on Monday after trying to get through to the call center from 9 a.m. when the phone lines opened until about 10:30 a.m.

White started to worry she wouldn't be able to get vaccinated and used her cell phone and her landline to call at the same time. 

Duggan said when the phone lines opened up for appointments Monday, there were 50,000 people on hold for the first half-hour.

About 4,000 callers ultimately got through and about half of them weren't yet eligible for vaccines. To better manage calls, Rock Connections, which is running the call center, has increased its staffing from 42 to 76 people and expanded hours to 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. The mayor also made an appeal to the city's population younger than 75 "not to be tying up the phone lines."

As of Wednesday, Duggan said wait times for making appointments were cut down to 17 minutes and would probably be shortened in the coming days.

Those who call to schedule vaccinations will be given appointment times for next week.

The process of getting the vaccine at the TCF Center was easy for 84-year-old Thelma Rudolph, who was driven by her son, David, 53. After getting her shot and being in the garage for about 30 minutes, Rudolph said she felt fine. 

"I have mixed emotions but I'm glad I got the shot," Rudolph said. "I thought about it because I have health issues and I came to the conclusion that it's best to be on the safe side."