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Michigan Town's Residents Are Thrilled About Town's Role In Fighting The Pandemic


In a small southwest Michigan town, yard signs are popping up all over. They're thanking workers who are making coronavirus vaccines at the local Pfizer plant. As Sehvilla Mann of member station WMUK in Kalamazoo reports, the town's residents are thrilled about its role in fighting the pandemic.

SEHVILLA MANN, BYLINE: The Pfizer plant in Portage, located about two hours west of Detroit, sprawls over 1,300 acres on the southern edge of town. It's the company's largest manufacturing center in the world. More than 2,000 people work here. The country's first coronavirus vaccines rolled out of this plant early last week, and people in Portage could not be prouder.

PATRICIA RANDALL: This has just been like riding a wave of positivity, great news, hope, joy, not just for our community but for the entire world.

MANN: Portage Mayor Patricia Randall says after months of pandemic bleakness, the good news about the vaccine has contributed to the collective buzz here.

RANDALL: I'd likened it to a winter day in March when the sun is beaming and the temperatures are higher than normal, and people are just happy.

MANN: And they're appreciative. A local developer paid for the yard signs thanking the company. They're posted in front of houses and businesses miles from the plant. The city just painted, thank you, in huge letters on the street right in front of the plant. The contractor who painted those giant letters did the job for free.



MAZEN: (Unintelligible) How are you?

MANN: Good, how are you?

Amo Mazen runs a popular Middle Eastern restaurant in Portage. He says he was so impressed when he learned the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was 95% percent effective that he decided to give any Pfizer Portage worker a free sandwich. At the restaurant, Mazen holds a box of receipts from Pfizer customers.

MAZEN: We just put them here to see how many.

MANN: But here's the thing. When some residents heard about Mazen's offer, they sent him donations to offset the cost of all that food. Amo Mazen unfolds a letter he got from a donor.

MAZEN: This is, like, from the second day. The second day, he sent us a $100 check, this person, and this nice letter, you know?

MANN: Retired Pfizer scientist Jim Pearson says the vaccine has put the city on the map and made its residents proud. Does he think that giddiness will last the whole winter?

JIM PEARSON: No, not really because the Moderna vaccine's coming out, and it doesn't need dry ice.

MANN: Moderna's vaccine doesn't have to be kept as cold as Pfizer's.

PEARSON: So that's going to be easier to ship to local doctors' offices. And also, there's going to be an array of vaccines that are coming out soon.

MANN: But Pearson says he welcomes that because the world needs billions of doses. He adds that Portage, Mich., will savor the feeling of being the first to provide some of them.

For NPR News, I'm Sehvilla Mann. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sehvilla Mann
Sehvilla Mann joined WMUK’s news team in January 2014 as a reporter on the local government and education beats. Before that she covered a variety of topics, including environmental issues, for Bloomington, Indiana NPR and PBS affiliates WFIU and WTIU. She’s also written and produced stories for the Pacifica Network and WYSO Public Radio in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Sehvilla holds a B.A. in French from Earlham College and an M.A. in journalism from Indiana University.