Detroit expands COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to new groups of residents

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan announced the city is immediately expanding eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines to residents with physical and developmental disabilities.

Residents who qualify include those with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, fetal alcohol syndrome and hearing or vision impairments, as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism and Tourette syndrome, the city said. Residents must be 18 or older.

"When you look at the research, individuals with Down syndrome are five times more likely to get COVID-19 than the population and 10 times more likely to die from COVID," Duggan said Thursday during a press conference at Detroit Public Safety headquarters. "Even the CDC website says that individuals with Down syndrome are more at risk.

Laura Lica (left), a Wayne State University nursing student, administers the Moderna vaccine to Kresky Acoff at the TCF Center on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2021.

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"Individuals with autism have behavioral issues that are going to make it very difficult to socially distance and wear a mask... and so we believe that it makes sense to move forward with this group," he said.

Residents can call for an appointment and let the operator know of the qualifying condition. Residents will be asked to bring a note from a health provider, prescription bottle or insurance or medical record to verify their condition.

Any Detroit resident who is a caregiver for someone with a disability can be vaccinated if they make the appointment together and come in the same car, Duggan said.

"The vaccines are 95% effective, but caregivers and these individuals are in such close contact all the time, that it's extremely important that both are protected," Duggan said. "There have been four states in the country that have moved beyond standards to allow these individuals to become vaccinated and we are joining them; Ohio, Iowa, Maryland, New Mexico and I'm hopeful the state of Michigan will catch up soon."

The mayor introduced Christopher Samp, the new director of the Office of Disability Affairs. Samp is a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he received a master's in public policy and has more than 20 years of higher education, nonprofit and government experience.

Samp, a Michigan native, recently joined the city's Civil Rights, Inclusion and Opportunity Department to address the needs of Detroit residents who are disabled, a group whose needs "are not always fully addressed with the needs of the general population" the mayor said.

"I'm excited to be back home to serve in this role for people with disabilities, making sure that we have accessible housing, employment opportunities, and transportation...we are here to support you and make Detroit accessible," said Samp, who is deaf. 

Director of the Office of Disability Affairs Christopher Samp signs as he speaks at a press conference at the Detroit Public Safety Headquarters in Detroit on Feb. 11, 2021. It was announced that COVID-19 vaccines will be given to Detroit residents who are disabled.

The city's expansion was the result of hundreds of letters and phone calls to Duggan and Denise Fair, the city's chief public health officer, over the last two weeks asking for the change, Detroit Disability Power said in a press release.

The group said the eligibility includes 126,000 Detroiters with disabilities and called for Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to follow suit.

“We have read your letters, and we do recognize a strong need to protect people with disability especially during COVID-19 because they are at a greater risk," Fair said, adding the city has been focusing on inoculations in adult foster care and group homes.

“Thank you to the City of Detroit for prioritizing COVID-19 vaccinations for people with disabilities," said Jeffrey Nolish, policy director for Detroit Disability Power. "This has the potential to protect tens of thousands of disabled lives. With Detroit leading, we hope more cities, counties and the State of Michigan follow suit.”

The Detroit Health Department is hosting vaccination fairs for Detroiters ages 65 and up inside two of the city's largest churches — Fellowship Chapel on the city's west side and Second Ebenezer Church on the east side — on Saturday.

The effort, coined "Senior Saturdays," is expected to vaccinate about 1,000 seniors in each of the next four Saturdays, Duggan said. 

Appointments for those eligible can be scheduled by calling (313) 230-0505 between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. Vaccination times are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Fellowship Chapel and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Second Ebenezer.

Detroit's latest push to vaccinate its most vulnerable residents comes as the city has detected its first two cases of the highly contagious new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7. 

Duggan said more than 70% of the deaths Detroit has seen from the virus have been in residents over 65. In the last two weeks, he added, 16 Detroiters have died, 15 of whom were older than 65.

To further boost access, Detroit is now offering low-cost transportation services to the city's TCF Center vaccination site downtown for seniors and other vaccine-eligible Detroiters.

Residents can schedule rides when setting up vaccination appointments at the TCF Center as long as they call at least 24 hours in advance of their appointment. The discounted fares with IntelliRide are $2 for a round trip.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_