Michigan to begin vaccinating people 65 and older, teachers

Michigan will begin issuing coronavirus vaccines to seniors and front-line workers such as teachers and police next week, state officials said Wednesday while announcing accelerated access for people who are at least 65 years old.

The state had planned to next immunize people 75 and older and essential workers including first responders, prison guards and child care providers. But residents age 65 to 74 will be included, too.

“Every shot in the arm is a step closer to ending this pandemic,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said.

So far, the COVID-19 vaccine has been limited to health care workers and nursing home residents — those in Phase 1A of the vaccine rollout plan. At least 152,000 people in the state have received the first dose in just over three weeks. Michigan will move to Phase 1B on Monday and will also include 65- to 74-year-olds from Phase 1C.

Seniors can book appointments by contacting county health departments and other local vaccine clinics. Essential workers including police, firefighters, prison and jail staff, pre-K-12 teachers and child care providers will be notified by their employers about clinic dates and locations.

The Democratic governor, who has come under Republican criticism over the pace of immunizations, said the goal is to use 90% of vaccines within seven days of receipt. She said federal allotments have been limited, and she urged patience.

“We don’t want to see people standing in lines. We don’t want to see people get sick jeopardizing their health, like we’ve seen in other states. That’s why it’s important to make sure you’ve made an appointment before you head out to get your vaccine.”

Officials stressed, however, that there will be limited appointments available.

Michigan wants to get 70% of residents age 16 and up vaccinated by the end of this year — roughly 5.6 million people.

The transition to the next phase was welcomed by public school groups. In December, more than half of all Michigan students were being educated using fully remote instruction due to the pandemic, according to a report from Michigan State University.

The Michigan State Medical Society, however, said many independently practicing physicians and their staff in Phase 1A have not yet been immunized, referring to those not employed by or affiliated with hospitals that received more than 80% of the 520,000 doses shipped.

Primary care physicians “have the expertise, equipment and processes in place to administer these vaccines” but “have been left out of the initial distribution plan,” said CEO Julie Novak, whose organization represents more than 15,000 physicians.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said the state has made clear to health systems and local health departments that they should be reaching out to health workers in their communities, not just their employees.

Compared to other states, Michigan ranks low in the number of people getting the first dose per 100,000 residents. Whitmer questioned the accuracy of the data, saying it’s not up to date. Khaldun said many people chose to wait until after the holidays but also said it is “absolutely concerning” when vaccines are not being used quickly.

“We absolutely have some work to do,” she said.

Michigan’s seven-day average of daily new COVID-19 cases is at 3,258, down from 3,780 two weeks ago. The average positivity rate is 8.9%, up from 7.9% on Dec. 22, according to The COVID Tracking Project. Average daily deaths, which lag cases, have dropped from 121 to about 92 over two weeks. About 2,400 were hospitalized with virus-related symptoms, a decrease of 40% from Dec. 1.

Before the governor’s news conference, Rep. Graham Filler, a DeWitt Republican, said he was disappointed and frustrated that hundreds of thousands of doses are sitting unused. He accused the Whitmer administration of “mangling the rollout.”  (AP)

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