Detroit opens path for Metro Detroit residents to get COVID-19 vaccine at TCF Center

Detroit — The city is making doses of COVID-19 vaccines available to suburban residents 55 and older who are willing to act as a "good neighbor" and accompany qualifying Detroiters to appointments at the TCF Center downtown, Mayor Mike Duggan announced Wednesday.

Duggan extended the offer while stressing Detroit has made a major push to get seniors to the center and also has expanded community-based sites to administer shots. But the city, he said, "is still not where we want to be."

"We have got thousands of Detroit seniors who are still at risk from COVID, who have not been vaccinated," Duggan said. "This is an opportunity for everybody over 55 who wants to get a vaccine. Be a good neighbor, come on out."

Duggan said the city has been making enough progress with its 15,000 weekly doses of the vaccine to boost access. He said there's a chance that by April that Detroit could vaccinate all residents who have a high risk of dying from the coronavirus and want the vaccine. Duggan said he expects the city to give out 25,000 doses next week between first and second shots.

Leaders in Wayne and Macomb counties, meanwhile, have urged the state to increase their weekly allotments of vaccine and welcomed the news Wednesday. But for some, the city's plan to hand out vaccines to non-Detroiters also raises questions about the state's distribution model.

"Move the supply where the demand is. We're begging for more vaccines. We are begging to vaccinate more people here," Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said. "We'll gladly take the excess vaccine. I can open up sites and facilities throughout the entire county. We can handle it."

Hackel said he asks the state and federal government weekly about getting 50,000 doses. That amount of vaccine would free the county up to provide shots to priority groups who remain in need there, including nursing home staff and residents and teachers. But he said those pleas have gone unanswered. 

"We stand ready to vaccinate," Hackel said. "We don't need somebody doing it for us."

Detroit's Health Department is receiving about 15,000 doses of the vaccine per week. By comparison, Macomb County gets about 5,000 doses. The weekly distributions from Oakland County's Health Division have varied from just less than 2,000 per week in early January to more than 18,000 doses last week.

“If Detroit needs Oakland County volunteers to serve as good neighbors to boost their vaccine efforts that’s fine, but what Oakland County needs are more doses for our residents," Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter said. 

The majority of the doses being directed to Oakland County are going to five different health systems. Many residents, said Bill Mullan, a spokesman for Oakland County, have connections with those medical centers or are able to sign up for waiting lists.

The demand in Wayne County is also high, and if the county had 250,000 doses of the vaccine per week, 250,000 seniors would be signed up to get it, said Bill Nowling, a spokesman for County Executive Warren Evans.

Wayne County received 13,000 first doses of the COVID vaccine this week and about 7,000 second doses.

"We do not see a competition when it comes to vaccines," said Nowling, adding as long as the process is fair and equitable it's "just one more avenue for seniors around Wayne County to go to."

Detroit has said it's getting a larger allotment of vaccines compared with other local county health departments because the city lags surrounding counties in the percentage of residents being vaccinated.

As of Wednesday, about 10% of adults in the city have been vaccinated. About 15.1% of Michigan residents have one dose, and 7.3% — or 589,944 people — have received both doses, according to the state.

A majority of Michigan residents are being vaccinated through hospital systems, although just 11% of Detroiters who have been vaccinated received doses through a hospital.

Nowling said the county doesn't take issue with the volume that communities, like Detroit, are receiving based on the risks their populations are facing. 

"If there is capacity somewhere else and that community is willing to take on the added responsibility, then that's welcome," he said. "The goal is to get the vaccines into arms as fast as possible."

The city's plan comes one week after Duggan opened up vaccine appointments to residents 60 and older with chronic medical conditions like cancer, heart conditions, liver or kidney disease, diabetes and hypertension. Those appointments became available on Friday. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021, in Washington.

The Detroit Health Department has been receiving a weekly allotment of 15,000 doses of the COVID vaccine. As of Tuesday, the city had received 76,620 doses, administered 70,661 and had 43,821 appointments scheduled. 

Macomb County is vaccinating residents ages 60 and older along with front-line and essential workers. Macomb has administered 51,914 doses of the 69,295 distributed to them and has 17,381 appointments set. As of Tuesday, 13.1% of residents have received one dose.

In its latest shipment, Oakland County's Health Department received 18,625 doses, more than double the amount of vaccine in previous weeks. The county has administered 54,891 of 60,000 doses distributed. As of Tuesday, 15.8% of residents had received one dose.

Wayne County Public Health has administered 36,601 doses and is scheduled to administer another 13,000 this week, aside from its health care partners. The county has administered 40,680 of the 74,850 doses it has. As of Tuesday, 14.7% of residents, outside of Detroit, received one dose.

Last week, Detroit was defending its decision to vaccinate employees at the TCF Center amid criticism from areas, like Macomb, that were receiving far fewer doses. The shots were offered to a handful of on-site employees of the event center as well as city employees of affiliated agencies including the city's Land Bank, Detroit Economic Growth Corporation and Public Lighting Authority.

Duggan and Detroit's Chief Public Health Office Denise Fair said Wednesday that vaccine hesitancy remains a problem in the city and substantial outreach and education efforts have been a priority. 

"This is a personal choice and you have to be empowered and confident to make the best choice for your family when it comes to taking the vaccine," Fair said. 

Fair said the city, as of Tuesday, has administered 2,809 vaccinations in senior apartments and 1,731 in homeless shelters. They also have provided 1,890 vaccines through the Senior Saturdays program, where vaccinations are offered at local churches, she said. 

Duggan had planned a $400,000 advertising campaign largely with testimonials from Detroiters who have been vaccinated at the TCF Center. 

Detroit's City Council, he said, postponed action Tuesday on the appropriation, which is expected to be reimbursed by the federal government. He hopes the council will take it up again at Tuesday's formal session.

"I'm not sure why council failed to act yesterday, but it is delaying the ad campaign to deal with the vaccine hesitancy," he said.

The city also recently began hosting "Senior Saturdays," an effort to vaccinate upward of 1,000 Detroit seniors on Saturdays at city churches. The program began at two sites, Second Ebenezer Church on the city's east side and Fellowship Chapel on the west side. Since then, two other locations — Grace Community Church and Kemeny Recreation Center — have been added. 

In the coming weeks, Duggan said Wednesday, Detroit will offer vaccines to churches in other sections of the city.

The mayor has been pressing the state and federal government, including President Joe Biden, to increase Detroit's weekly allowance of the vaccine to 25,000 doses. Duggan met with Biden earlier this month at the Oval Office alongside other mayors and governors to discuss the president's COVID relief plan. 

On Monday, The Detroit News reported that Federal Emergency Management Agency officials are eyeing Ford Field for a mass vaccination site that could open next month in downtown Detroit.

Health officials toured the domed stadium Monday morning with representatives from the Michigan State Police, city of Detroit and the Detroit Lions, sources familiar with the plans told The News.

Duggan said that FEMA, the state of Michigan and the city of Detroit are in talks over the opportunity for a major regional vaccination site to serve southeast Michigan. He said he's leaving it to FEMA to disclose additional details. 

Detroit continues to ramp up vaccination efforts in the midst of multiple confirmed cases of the highly contagious new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7. Fair noted Wednesday that the city's infection rate has fallen to an all-time low of 2.8%. 

Vaccine appointments can be scheduled by calling (313) 230-0505 between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

cferretti@detroitnews.com