Detroit's Ford Field to host mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — The Biden administration announced Friday that Detroit's Ford Field will host a federally run mass vaccination site, opening March 24. 

The football arena, home to the Detroit Lions, most recently served as a vaccine site run by Meijer, vaccinating Michigan educators and educational staff at a two-day clinic last week.

The site, supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will vaccinate 6,000 people a day, Andy Slavitt, seniorWhite House adviser for COVID response, said at a Friday briefing.

The site will serve residents in the broader southeast Michigan area and is expected to administer 5,000 shots day on site and an additional 1,000 day through a mobile option.

FEMA has obligated over $27.5 million and deployed over 25 federal personnel to Michigan to support vaccination operations statewide, the White House said.

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Health officials toured the domed stadium last month. The site will be managed by the state of Michigan with support from FEMA, as well as Wayne County, the city of Detroit, Ford Field, Meijer, Henry Ford Health System and the Lions, according to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office. 

The site will be open 8 a.m.-8:30 p.m., seven days a week for eight weeks under the federal government's vaccination pilot program. 

The Ford Field site is not taking reservations yet, but Whitmer's office said instructions on how to book an appointment will be announced in the next few days.

“I want to thank President Biden and FEMA for the opportunity to build one of the nation’s first community vaccination sites to service the entire Southeast Michigan region," Whitmer said in a statement.

"Ramping up vaccine distribution will also help our economy recover faster and help save our small businesses that have been hit hard by the pandemic. Let’s get to work, and let’s get it done.” 

FEMA opened its first COVID-19 mass vaccination sites last month as part of an effort by the Biden administration to get shots into arms more quickly and reach minority communities hit hard by the outbreak.

As of Wednesday, federal officials had opened or were ramping up 20 mass vaccination sites, with 16 operational, Slavitt said. The sites have collectively delivered over 500,000 shots. 

The government plans to soon double the number of mass vaccination centers, including the one in Detroit, Slavitt said.

The mass vaccination sites are selected based on a framework developed to target vaccinations to those who are most vulnerable, federal officials say. 

Ford Field in downtown Detroit was selected in part because it's known by residents of the city and the Metro area, is ADA accessible and can accommodate 10,000 people at once, with convenient access to parking and transit. 

The White House also noted that COVID affected southeast Michigan especially hard, particularly among communities of color. 

“We need to continue efforts like these to get Michiganders vaccinated, including people of color and other vulnerable communities," said U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, a Southfield Democrat and member of the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities.

"This includes tackling myths and building trust in the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine."

Teachers assistant at the Berkley School District Sylvia Boyd of Detroit and 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.

Detroit is the state's city hardest-hit by the coronavirus, with over 30,600 confirmed cases and 1,857 deaths linked to the virus. It also lies in the state's largest county, Wayne County.

“The most important thing we can do now as a community is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible so our lives and our economy can return to normal,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said.

“Having this new mass vaccination site operated by FEMA will be a significant step forward for our city and our region toward that goal. We will be working closely with FEMA and state officials to make sure vaccines are distributed equitably."

Michigan has vaccinated over 1 million residents through March 10, covering 12.5% of the state population, according to state data. 

President Joe Biden in a Thursday night speech said he's directing all states and territories to make all adults eligible for the vaccine no later than May 1, which is earlier than expected and reflects the government's efforts to acquire millions more vaccines from manufacturers. 

Michigan said Friday it's expanding vaccination eligibility to all Michiganians 16 and older starting April 5.

The nation's current seven-day average is 2.2 million shots per day, Slavitt said. "We are making progress but there's more work to do," he said. 

At Ford Field, the vaccine will be free, and insurance won't be required.

Whitmer's office said Michigan residents eligible to receive the vaccine under the state health department's vaccine prioritization guidance will be able to register for an appointment at Ford Field when reservations open up.

mburke@detroitnews.com