Detroit expands COVID-19 vaccine eligibility again, doesn't plan to offer single-shot version

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city expanded COVID-19 vaccine eligibility again on Tuesday to include manufacturing workers who live or work in Detroit, but the city does not plan to offer the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine that was approved this week.

Michigan is expected to receive its largest vaccine shipment with nearly 500,000 doses arriving this week, including 82,700 doses of the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine.

Duggan said he's not expecting the city to receive Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

"The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are 95% effective if you get two shots. It makes sense to get (Johnson & Johnson single doses) out to people in rural areas ... to people waiting three or four hours in line. 

"In Detroit, we've got the finest vaccination infrastructure in the country. We can get you in and out quickly through TCF Center and we could do it twice and be fully protected," Duggan said.

Teachers assistant at the Berkley School District Sylvia Boyd of Detroit gets her COVID-19 vaccine from Meijer pharmacist Brittany Wilkinson.  Meijer hosted a vaccine clinic at Ford Field exclusively for educators and education staff in Detroit on March 1, 2021.

Dr. Debra Furr-Holden, Michigan State University's director of the Division of Public Health, approved of Duggan's stance, saying it wouldn't be thoughtful to administer a quickly developed and approved vaccine on an already-hesitant community.

African Americans in Michigan are about twice as likely to not have received their two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine than residents who are White, according to data the state has released.

She said Johnson & Johnson has an opportunity to ease the inequity of vaccine distribution in Michigan, but the new vaccine's distribution must be handled carefully.

"We can't push the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on the underserved, especially when we know it has a lower effective rate," said Furr-Holden, who also serves as director of the Flint Center for Health Equity Solutions. "A premature rush could have unintended consequences and undermine the trust of the people we serve."

The single-shot vaccine was 72% effective at preventing moderate illness in U.S. trials, a number that falls short of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which were about 95% effective after two doses. However, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine completely prevented hospitalization and death, including in South Africa against a more transmittable variant, and was 85% effective at protecting against severe cases of illness.

However, experts say head-to-head comparisons among the vaccines cannot be made, because the trials were conducted at different times during the pandemic and in different countries dealing with different variants and transmission rates.

In its effort to ramp up vaccinations in the city, the Detroit Health Department is going to set up on-site vaccinations at major manufacturing centers in the city starting with 8,000 employees at the two Jeep plants on the city's east side, Duggan said.

"I think all of us were a little bit shaken by what happened at Whole Foods after 23 people were positively infected and it shows you the potential when people are working together," he said. "The auto companies and UAW have done a great job so far but nothing is good as vaccination."

Dr. Meagan Fitzpatrick, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine who is studying infectious disease control strategies, said the main advantage of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the stability it offers. Unlike the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, it doesn’t need to be kept ultracold or frozen, which is intentional as it makes it easier to be used places that aren’t equipped to store the other vaccines.

“They help reach places where the logistics have previously been challenging. That’s the opportunities these vaccines offer that didn’t exist before, where the cold chain was a barrier,” Fitzpatrick said. “Across all of these trials and all of these observations, there have been zero COVID-19 deaths in vaccinated people. The advice from the CDC is real and the focus is to allow Johnson & Johnson the opportunity to open up access across places that don’t have it.

"Every vaccine is a good vaccine that saves lives," she said.

Dr. Robert Dunne, Medical Director for the Detroit Fire Department, administers a COVID-19 vaccination to Cindy Estrada, Vice President of the UAW, during a press conference at the Detroit Public Safety Headquarters, in Detroit, March 2, 2021.

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The city will be providing vaccines to Ascension Health and Duggan said major manufacturers in the city can contact partners at Detroit At Work to arrange vaccinations at their sites.

There are no age restrictions and all manufacturing workers who live in the suburbs but work in the city are eligible to get the vaccine at the TCF Center by calling (313) 230-0505.

United Auto Workers Vice President Cindy Estrada received her vaccine after the press conference, saying the expansion adds another layer of protection in the city.

"Workers in manufacturing, whether they're union or not, have really been there throughout this whole pandemic working and it has not been easy," Estrada said. "There's still a risk; that puts a lot of stress on workers and their families. We've had illness in our plants and deaths, so this is incredibly important."

Last week was the first time the city expanded eligibility to nonresidents, offering a vaccine to anyone 55 years or older who drives an eligible Detroiter 60 or older to a vaccine appointment.

Detroit chief public health officer Denise Fair also announced the city has released vaccination data by race on its website. The self-reported data is collected from people who have been vaccinated by the health department and at the TCF Center, Fair said.

Black Detroiters account for 82% of shots, with 15% identifying as White and 2.9% identifying as other. 

"Now this is closely aligned with the Black and brown communities. This is good news for Detroiters and is something we are definitely proud of," Fair said. "Our strategies are working, and that Detroiters have equitable access to this life-saving vaccine."

Regardless of residency, of the city workers vaccinated, 63% are Black, 31% are White and 6% are listed as other races.

As of Tuesday, the city has administered 90,000 doses and has 50,000 appointments scheduled.

The city is also adding to its Senior Saturday vaccinations by appointment from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the following locations:

  • Grace Community Church at 21001 Moross Road through March 20.
  • Kemeny Recreation Center at 2260 S. Fort Street through March 20.
  • Fellowship Chapel at 7707 W. Outer Drive through March 6.
  • Second Ebenezer Church at 14601 Dequindre through March 6.
  • New Providence Baptist at 18211 Plymouth Road through March 27.
  • Greater Emmanuel Institutional COGIC at 19190 Schaefer Hwy through March 27.

Eligible residents can call (313) 230-0505 to schedule their appointment for the TCF Center or the Senior Saturdays locations.

The city plans to offer 500 to 2,000 doses at each Senior Saturday event and is offering $2 rides for Detroiters who need transportation. Rides are wheelchair accessible and must be scheduled 24 hours in advance of the appointment by calling the center at (313) 230-0505.

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.

Last week, The Detroit News reported that Federal Emergency Management Agency officials are eyeing Ford Field for a mass vaccination site that could open in March in downtown Detroit.

Duggan said 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.

On vaccinating manufacturing workers in Dearborn, Ford spokeswoman Kelli Felker said they are encouraging workers to get the vaccine when they are eligible to do so.

"Ford is working with government officials around the world to help ensure our employees have access to vaccines as they become available," Felker said in a statement to The News. "Individual employee eligibility is determined by the requirements outlined by the county, state or country in which those employees live and/or work."

The full list of eligible individuals who can schedule appointments at TCF now includes:

  • Good Neighbors age 55 or older, regardless of residency, if they drive an eligible Detroiter 60 or older. Appointments must be made at the same time.
  • Detroit residents 60 or older, regardless of health conditions.
  • Food service workers living or working in Detroit.
  • K-12 employees and caregivers.
  • Security guards, janitors and U.S. Postal Service employees living or working in the city.
  • Employees of city-related agencies who are working from their regular job sites.
  • Members of the clergy and funeral home employees.
  • Healthcare workers and members of the city's disabled community 18 and older.
  • Manufacturing workers who work in the city.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_

Staff Writer Jordyn Grzelewski contributed.