Michigan to open COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to people 50 and older
Michiganders 50 and older with underlying health conditions or disabilities can get COVID-19 vaccinations starting Monday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Wednesday.
Family members and guardians who care for children with special health care needs also will be eligible for shots.
"All other individuals over age 50 (will be) eligible March 22," said Tiffany Brown, Whitmer's communications director.
People will need to attest that they have a disability or one of the following health conditions when they sign up for a vaccination appointment, said state health department spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin:
- Asthma (moderate-to-severe)
- Cerebrovascular disease (affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain)
- Chronic kidney disease
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- Cystic fibrosis
- Diabetes (Type 1 or 2)
- Down syndrome
- Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathies
- Hypertension or high blood pressure
- Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant, blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune-weakening medicines)
- Liver disease
- Neurologic conditions, such as dementia
- Obesity or severe obesity (body mass index of 30 kg/m2 or higher)
- Overweight (BMI greater than 25 kg/m2, but below 30 kg/m2)
- Pulmonary fibrosis (having damaged or scarred lung tissues)
- Sickle cell disease
- Thalassemia (a type of blood disorder)
The state is using the Americans with Disabilities Act definition to outline who is considered disabled and therefore eligible for a vaccine. It includes any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, anyone with a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.
The expanded eligibility comes as Michigan stands to get its largest shipment yet this week of nearly half a million total doses of coronavirus vaccines, state health officials said, with the addition of 82,700 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The shipment includes 212,940 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine along with 196,400 doses of the Moderna vaccine — at a time when demand for the shots far exceeds supply.
“That’s great news," Whitmer said in a video posted on Fox17’s website during a visit Wednesday to a Dearborn bridge targeted for improvements under her budget plan. "We’re gonna be one of the first states in the nation and it’s because we’ve got this many vaccines on hand. We’ve been hitting our 50,000 mark for 16 days straight,” Whitmer said as she donned a mask, hard hat and construction vest.
“And with these additional vaccines, we could take it higher than that because the Biden administration is confident that more and more vaccines are coming online and available. So, we’re excited about that.”
President Joe Biden said Tuesday that with the use of the Defense Production Act, Merck will help Johnson & Johnson produce its vaccine more quickly, allowing the federal government to manufacture enough doses for all adult Americans by the end of May.
Since December, Michigan has gotten 2.9 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, and has injected nearly 2.3 million doses into arms, according to state data.
State health officials say the goal is to immunize at least 70% of Michiganders by the end of the year.
Hundreds of thousands of people remain on a waiting list for a vaccine through Oakland County's Health Division, and appointments for shots through the Macomb County Health Department are snapped up in minutes each Tuesday morning when its COVID-19 vaccine hotline opens up.
In Wayne County, vaccines still are going to people ages 65 and older, K-12 teachers, child care workers, law enforcement officers and health care workers.
"We will continue to work through that priority list before moving on the other groups," said Bill Nowling, a spokesman for Wayne County Executive Warren Evans. "We are moving quickly through the senior population, but we anticipate it will take us a few more weeks to finish."
People desperate for vaccines have started vaccine hunters social media sites to help one another secure scarce appointments.
Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said the expansion sounds good in theory. But there still isn’t adequate vaccine supply for the current demand.
“Promising something we don’t have? Why?" he asked. "The state doesn’t have to take these appointments. This is gonna create frustration on behalf of the people who are trying to get into the system (already) and those who have now been allowed to get into the system.”
Though he hasn’t yet calculated the population of Macomb County residents ages 50-64, Hackel said he's “soft guessing” it could total as many as a quarter-million people.
If more vaccine supply is coming in May, “why are we opening it up in March?” he asked.
“This was not a coordinated effort," Hackel said of the decision to expand eligibility now. "This was top-down. We would have cautioned against this.”
The state's COVID-19 dashboard shows that 44% of people age 65-74 have received at least one dose, with 48.6% of those 75 or older having had at least one dose. Only 13% of people 50 to 64 have received at least one dose.
Those eligible for shots in Michigan now are health care workers, people living in long-term care facilities, law enforcement officers, K-12 teachers, child care workers and all people ages 65 and older. Food processing and agricultural workers were also added to the statewide eligibility list on Monday.
Sutfin acknowledged, however, that some local health departments have added other groups of people to the priority list. The city of Detroit, for example, is now vaccinating any resident 60 and older and will also offer immunizations to anyone 55 and older — no matter where they live — who drives a Detroiter to a vaccine appointment. It's part of the city's Good Neighbor program. The city expanded eligibility Tuesday to include manufacturing workers.
"Local health departments have the option to prioritize the groups within the guidance they feel are most at risk and at highest need of vaccination," Sutfin said. "No shot in the arm is ever wasted as getting this vaccine is our way out of the pandemic and returning to some sense of normalcy."
The Michigan Health and Hospital Association released a statement Wednesday saying it supports the expanded eligibility, as did the Michigan State Medical Society.
“The fastest and best way to return to pre-pandemic life is for people to be vaccinated," said Dr. Bobby Mukkamala, president of the Michigan State Medical Society. "Expanding access by age will help do that, and expanding access even further means involving primary care physicians in the delivery of the vaccine.
“Michigan’s primary care physicians must be allowed to be involved in the important work of vaccination distribution, especially now as more and more residents become eligible. I can assure you that Michigan physicians stand ready to assist in this vital effort.”
Former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who now is president of the Small Business Association of Michigan, also lauded the change, saying in a statement Wednesday:
“The Small Business Association of Michigan has continually advocated for a simpler eligibility system for the COVID-19 vaccine that is not complicated to administer and prioritizes those with the highest risk of serious illness or death. Today’s move to open vaccines on March 8 for those 50 and older with preexisting conditions, followed by anyone over 50 two weeks later, accomplishes both of these objectives."
State health officials urge people who are newly eligible to:
- Check the website of the local health department or your hospital to find out how to get an appointment.
- Check additional vaccination sites, such as local pharmacies like Meijer, Rite Aid or Cardinal Health (for residents of the Upper Peninsula).
- Call the COVID-19 Hotline at 888-535-6136 (press 1) if they do not have internet access or if they need help scheduling a vaccine appointment. The hotline is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri. or 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Sat-Sun. Help also is available by calling 2-1-1.
More resources are available at Michigan.gov/COVIDvaccine.
Contact Kristen Jordan Shamus: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus.