Michigan set to distribute vaccines to health centers serving 'vulnerable' people

The state of Michigan will begin distributing vaccine to certain federally qualified health centers to ensure those at highest risk of serious COVID-19 complications — racial or ethnic minorities, or people with lower incomes or disabilities — are prioritized for vaccines. 

The new program also will prioritize vaccinations for mortuary workers and, starting March 1, roughly 79,000 workers in food processing and agricultural settings.

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The 41 federally qualified health centers eligible under the new strategy will help to vaccinate people over the age of 65 who are in medically under-served areas. Separately, health providers with specific plans to remove socioeconomic barriers to the vaccine will be allowed to request vaccine for folks over 60. 

Beverly Beasley of Detroit, seated, gets the Moderna vaccine shot from Henry Ford Health Medical Assistant Patrice Odom at Second Ebenezer Church in Detroit, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021.

The new populations and administrators prioritized for vaccine distributions advance the state's goals for both equity in vaccine administration and a 70% vaccination rate among those over the age of 16, said Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun.

“Workers in higher risk agricultural settings have been adversely impacted by this pandemic," Khaldun said in a Monday statement. "We also know that we need to remove barriers to vaccine access for our most vulnerable individuals in Michigan, including those with disabilities, lower income, and racial and ethnic minorities."

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin said the policy shift was not responsible for Beaumont Health's cancellation Monday of nearly 2,000 appointments this week for people expecting their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine when the health center said it got less vaccine than expected from the state.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said earlier Monday that the city would detail its plan under the expanded eligibility strategy in the coming days. 

Detroit received 15,000 weekly doses of the vaccine Monday, but the mayor hopes the distribution will increase next month.. 

"Hopefully we will get above 15,000 sooner than that," Duggan said. "But if you talk to the county executives in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb, they'd all like more too. Everyone is watching out for their own constituents as they should be. We're the ones who have proven we're doing 15,000 a week without breaking a sweat."

In the first phase of vaccine distribution, the vaccine largely was available to hospitals and local health departments to target health care workers and workers and residents at long-term care facilities.

Whitmer expanded the eligibility criteria the week of Jan. 11 to those over 65 and some critical workers such as teachers in a bid to reopen in-person learning. 

The roll-out largely has been hampered by a limited supply of the vaccine as states across the nation wait their turn for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.