Ford launches on-site vaccinations for employees in southeast Michigan, Ohio, Missouri

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

As Michigan battles a worst-in-the-nation surge in COVID-19 cases, Ford Motor Co. on Monday launched on-site vaccinations for employees at some of its manufacturing facilities in the U.S., including locations in southeast Michigan.

The Dearborn automaker announced that, in partnership with the United Auto Workers and providers that are distributing the vaccine, it would begin offering on-site vaccinations at facilities in three states. The opportunities are open to employees in southeast Michigan and in Lima, Ohio, and Kansas City, Missouri.

Emma O'Connnell of Romulus receives her vaccine shot from medical assistant Tiarra Brown at a walk-in clinic at the TCF Center in Detroit. Ford Motor Co. is beginning to offer doses to its employees at some of its facilities in southeast Michigan, Ohio and Missouri.

"This is just one of the ways that we are protecting the health and safety of our employees," Dr. Francesca Litow, Ford's corporate medical director, told The Detroit News. "Our place-dependent employees have been working for almost a year now, successfully, and how we've been able to keep them healthy and safe is through our robust health and safety processes for our employees. Vaccination adds one more layer to that."

In southeast Michigan, Ford and the UAW have partnered with Rite Aid to administer the Moderna vaccine. Clinics are being organized at Ford's Flat Rock Assembly Plant, the Ernest Lofton Fitness Center at the Rouge complex in Dearborn, Van Dyke Transmission Plant in Sterling Heights, and the Rawsonville Components Plant in Ypsilanti.

Meanwhile, the automaker and the union have teamed up with local hospitals to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to employees at Ford's Lima Engine Plant and Kansas City Assembly Plant.

Ford's crosstown competitors Stellantis NV and General Motors Co. previously launched on-site vaccinations at some of their facilities.

Stellantis NV employees in Belvidere, Illinois, were among the first autoworkers to receive the COVID-19 vaccines. The automaker is distributing the shots to its employees and their families through its health and wellness centers operated by regional health systems in Belvidere, Detroit and Kokomo, Indiana, based on state orders. The Ascension Michigan-operated center in Detroit is administering vaccines to patients 16 years old and older.

GM spokesman David Caldwell said Monday that the Detroit automaker is "making a lot of progress working with public health officials to administer vaccines — both inside our workplaces and elsewhere."

The automaker, for example, worked with the city of Detroit to vaccinate hundreds of employees at its Factory Zero Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center in March. Numerous other GM facilities have offered on-site vaccination clinics, including in Lansing, Saginaw, and Spring Hill, Tennessee. And the automaker continues to help employees secure vaccine appointments at external sites.

Caldwell said GM would add on-site vaccinations at other locations in the coming days and weeks.

Ford's program began at the Flat Rock plant Monday and will continue at "various locations" through June, according to the automaker. Ford and the UAW plan to make similar arrangements at other facilities in the coming weeks and months. Litow said that plans are being made to offer Chicago-area workers on-site vaccinations sometime in May, for example.

"The timing depends upon the vaccine providers," she said. "Ford is not receiving vaccine to our medical facilities; we are partnering with vendors such as pharmacies ... as well as healthcare providers or hospital systems or occupational health clinics that have vaccine allotments now or in the future."

The automakers' efforts to vaccinate their workforces come as Michigan leads the nation in new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, a trend that state leaders have attributed in part to the spread of more-contagious variants and lack of compliance with health protocols.

The state added 8,574 new COVID-19 cases and 61 deaths Monday, and marked a record-high number of hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic. In all, the state has had 793,881 cases of COVID-19 and 16,901 deaths since the virus first was detected in March 2020, according to data from the state Department of Health and Human Services.

About 30% of Michigan's residents are fully vaccinated. The state has set a goal of vaccinating at least 70% of the adult population by the end of this year.

Litow said that as cases in the state have gone up, Ford has seen "waxing and waning of our rates, but certainly not to the extent that we've seen out of the community."

"The good news is that we have not seen anyone who we've identified as potentially exposed to someone with COVID in the workplace become infected when they followed our policies and our processes," she said. 

Litow said the demand for vaccine among Ford's workforce mirrors that among the public; some were eager to get vaccinated as soon as they were able to do so, while others have been hesitant. For those who are hesitant, she said, "providing quality information to them is one thing that we can do to help start those conversations and allow them to make an informed decision about accepting vaccination."

The automaker set up a digital scheduling system that employees can use to make an appointment. Employees are automatically scheduled for their second dose when they receive their first dose.

The Detroit Three automakers have not required their employees to get vaccinated, but along with the UAW have provided information to employees about the vaccines and issued guidance on other ways workers can keep safe both inside and outside of work. The automakers worked with the UAW to develop health and safety protocols for manufacturing facilities before plants reopened last spring after a two-month shutdown.

Twitter: @JGrzelewski

Staff Writers Breana Noble and Kalea Hall contributed.