Detroit's front-line workers to receive first COVID-19 vaccines

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city's first responders and front-line workers will be the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccines starting Wednesday, Mayor Mike Duggan said.

The city, in partnership with Henry Ford Health System, will be deploying the first round of Moderna vaccines this week prioritizing 1,200 medical first responders and emergency technicians who work for the Detroit Fire Department, Duggan announced Tuesday.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan gets the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a press conference at the Detroit Public Safety Headquarters in Detroit on Dec. 22, 2020, from registered nurse Katy Isles.

"Our health care workers have seen what COVID has done to this community. A lot of folks in this town lost a lot of family members. I think people know what's at stake," Duggan said. "We're approaching this with empathy, understanding. Our firefighters, when they come in tomorrow, will have Henry Ford medical staff taking them through the science behind this."

Thirty additional city health care workers will receive their doses so they can vaccinate others in the community, Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair said.

Next in line will be 450 home health care workers expected to receive the vaccine next week. Most of the city's nursing homes have a direct partnership with a pharmacy that will be providing the vaccine in January, Duggan said.

"I do expect us in the coming months to be running huge vaccination operations out of TCF parking structures three or four months down the road," Duggan said. "Right now, we need the first responders to trust this decision enough to know that their families in the city will be better off if we take the vaccine."

Last week, the Detroit-based hospital system received 5,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, about 975 per hospital, and is slated to receive another 13,000 Moderna doses arriving this week, its president and CEO Wright Lassiter said.

"We have vaccinated over 4,000 of our team members and continue to work diligently to ensure that all of our health care workers who are providing critical care to our communities, receive the vaccine if they so desire," Lassiter said. "And part of our mission has been, not only to offer our team members but also to make sure that they have the information they need to make informed decisions."

Michigan health officials said they expect to receive 120,900 doses of COVID-19 vaccines each of the next two weeks. Approximately 2,000 Moderna doses are allocated for Detroit's front-line workers and first responders this week, Fair said.

Following the press conference, Duggan, Fair and Lassiter received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Duggan said no employee will be reprimanded for opting out of receiving the vaccine.

"To our city employees, while I believe this is the right thing to do, we are not going to mandate. This is going to be your choice," Duggan said. "We are going to lead by a positive example. We can't have a conversation about whether to take a vaccine from the federal government, without acknowledging the history of racism that we have had in the health care system."

Because of a long history of mistrust caused by past government-sanctioned testing and experimentation on Black residents, studies suggest Black Americans are less likely to get vaccinated than other ethnic groups.

Lassiter, who was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, said distrust in the African American community surrounding the vaccine is what led him to lead by example for his 33,000 team members.

"In this region and in the city, and to let them know that I feel very confident in both the safety and efficacy of this vaccine," he said. "We take the partnership in this effort very seriously and are committed to helping those on the frontline in this great city to navigate this complex journey that we're all in."

Henry Ford Health System participated in two COVID-19 clinical trials, including Moderna's.

"And we did that very specifically because we wanted to ensure there was access to a broad, diverse community who are participating in the clinical trials, so we'd have as much data available as possible to support decision making going forward," Lassiter said. "We are confident in the data from these trials, as it relates to both effectiveness and safety. We're just as confident in the FDA strict approval process."

Detroit Medical Center CEO Dr. Audrey Gregory received her vaccine on Friday. She said she had soreness in her arm, but four days later, she feels fine.

"For the over 1,500 (DMC) team members who also received the vaccine, we have not had any adverse reactions outside of the soreness we all feel," she said. "I recognize there's a concern in all communities, but I ask us not just to trust the science but to recognize that we're making decisions not just for ourselves, but for our family and for our community."

As of Saturday, the city has recorded 24,367 confirmed cases of the virus and 1,662 deaths.

Nursing homes and long-term care facilities account for more than 400 of the city's deaths.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_