Ford Field opens to deliver mass COVID-19 vaccinations in Detroit

View Comments

Detroit — Six thousand COVID-19 vaccine shots per day, every day, for eight weeks.

That's the state of Michigan's hope for the mass vaccination effort that officially opened Wednesday at Ford Field in downtown Detroit.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive, administered doses of the vaccine herself on Tuesday, and described it as an "honor."

"Being able to speak to people who've been waiting months to get their vaccine, it was incredibly exciting," Khaldun said.

When she emerged from Gate A of Ford Field, she was still wearing her white coat.

"This is a really big deal, and it means we're on our way through this," Khaldun said.

For the next eight weeks, the site is expected to distribute 335,000 doses in addition to the state's allocation from the federal government that goes to hospitals, health departments and pharmacies, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said last week.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan's chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health in the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, speaks outside Ford Field in Detroit on Mar. 24, 2021. Ford Field is being used as a COVID-19 vaccination clinic.

The Ford Field vaccination site is a collaboration of the state, Wayne County, Meijer, the city, Henry Ford Health System and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

At the request of FEMA, 220 Department of Defense military medical and support staff will serve at Ford Field.

FEMA is running the show, and has banned press from inside the stadium. But people leaving after getting their shot said it's a quick and efficient process.

Bob Simpson, 62, of Farmington Hills, made the drive downtown Wednesday.

"It's very smooth," Simpson said. "You walk in and everybody is friendly and helpful. This was seamless and easy to get."

Like others who left Ford Field — normally the home of the Detroit Lions, but for the spring a battleground on the war on COVID-19 — Simpson's name tag displayed not his name, but his appointment time, 1:45.

But after arriving early, including the 15-minute waiting period after the shot, he was out by 1:50 p.m.

Robyn Lapointe, 60, of Warren, said she's been "been waiting to get that call" and was excited to come downtown for her first shot. With the afternoon free and a nearly 70-degree day, Lapointe and husband Michael left Ford Field en route to the nearby Greektown Casino.

"It worked out perfect," Lapointe said. "They're very nice in there. They don't push it. They don't shove it down your throat."

Lapointe doesn't feel she's at high risk.

"I just thought it was important to protect myself," Lapointe said. "This is a preventative move."

Invitations have been going out to urge people to book a vaccine appointment; 14,000 appointments were scheduled in the first four days, spokesman Mike Nowlin said.

"The focus is on trying to get into urban communities, trying to get into the city of Detroit. Detroit was hit pretty hard during the first wave," said Henry Ford Health System's Dr. Usamah (Sam) Mossallam, who is medical director of the Ford Field vaccine site. "This is a way to actually just show people, come on in. We're in the middle of the city trying to get folks of color, trying to get vulnerable populations, trying to get the Latin American population."

Of the registrants, 36,000 total were sent invitations to book a time slot, 1,000 people have declined and crews are working their way through the 86,000 people still on the registry, he said.

At least 5,000 doses will be administered on-site each day and another 1,000 a day will be distributed through mobile clinics working with four local health departments.

The Pfizer vaccine will be offered for the first three weeks and returning patients will also receive the second dose during the fourth, fifth and sixth weeks of operation. The site will administer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine during the last two weeks, officials said.

Appointments kicked off at 6 a.m. with patients heading into the concourse, entering into aisles of black curtains and exiting 30 minutes later. 

"(Ford Field) is obviously a recognized site. Typically you need a big place that can handle (5,000) or 6,000 people or more," said Mossallam, who aided vaccine research during the trials. "So from that perspective, having a place like this that's easily recognized, people know how to get here is one major factor."

The site is supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Henry Ford Health System is providing medical oversight. 

Any Michigan resident who is currently eligible to receive the vaccine under the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services vaccine prioritization guidance can fill out a registration form for an appointment online at clinic.meijer.com/register/CL2021.

Eligible residents can also text "EndCOVID" to 75049 and select the Ford Field location or call the health department hotline at (888) 535-6136 and press 1. For those unable to text or access the internet, the call center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m Saturday and Sunday.

Eligible residents who have already signed up with Meijer will need to register a second time for Ford Field. People who register can choose the first appointment that becomes available, either in a store or at Ford Field.

After completing the forms, people who have registered will receive an invitation either by phone or text when it’s their turn to schedule the appointment. Vaccine appointments will be scheduled a few days in advance, officials said.

Starting April 5 the state is expecting to expand eligibility to include all Michigan residents 16 and up.

View Comments