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As FDA OK nears, Whitmer urges residents to get COVID-19 boosters

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday encouraged all vaccinated Michigan residents to plan to get their boosters as soon as federal regulators lift the remaining limitations on eligibility.  

Limitations remain on booster eligibility for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but those are expected to be lifted at the federal level this week, Whitmer said in a statement. She urged people to make an appointment for a booster as those restrictions are lifted.

"I am proud of the progress we have made on boosters, with over 1 million administered to date," said Whitmer, who received her booster Nov. 5. "We need to build on that momentum and ensure that everyone who is fully vaccinated gets a booster too."

Wayne White, 66, of Southfield, receives a booster Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine from an Oakland County Health Department nurse at the Southfield Pavilion on Wednesday, September 29, 2021.

Whitmer did not comment directly in the statement on Michigan's rising case and hospitalization numbers, but her Chief Medical Executive Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian said the department continues "to closely monitor the data."

"We are concerned about rising cases and hospitalizations and have to keep working together to administer more vaccines and boosters at a rapid pace," Bagdasarian said in a statement.

"After nearly two years of facing COVID-19, we have more tools to keep people safe and help those in the hospital recover, but the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is to get vaccinated and get your booster.” 

Michigan leads the nation in new COVID-19 cases per population over the last seven days. 

The state Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday added data pushing Michigan's overall totals since the start of the pandemic in March 2020 to 1,224,273 confirmed cases and 23,104 deaths.

This week marked one year since Whitmer announced a "pause to save lives" that ushered in several restrictions limiting gatherings in colleges, high schools and restaurants. That week — between Nov. 15 and 21, 2020 — Michigan hit a weekly record of 50,892 cases. The total so far this week has been 35,595. 

Whitmer added at the end of her Wednesday statement that she'd met with public health officials Tuesday night. She said the priority remains to keep people safe "by encouraging everyone to get vaccinated and those who are eligible to get their booster."

She encouraged people who are vaccinated to plan for a booster shot and flu shot as well as to wear a mask in large indoor settings and to test after symptoms, exposure or travel. 

For people who are unvaccinated, Whitmer recommended getting the vaccine and flu shot, wearing a mask for all indoor gatherings, and testing regularly, especially after symptoms, exposure or travel. 

Whitmer encouraged parents to vaccinate children older than 5 and for long-term care facilities to hold on-site booster clinics for residents and staff.

She touted Michigan's vaccination rate of 70% of people over the age 16 who had received at least one dose as well as the state's administration of 1.1 million boosters to date. 

Federal guidance regards all people over 18 and vaccinated with a Johnson & Johnson shot as eligible for a booster at least two months after their initial vaccination.

But boosters for those who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines are limited to people over the age of 65 or those over 18 who have underlying conditions or are living in a long-term care setting, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recommends individuals wait at least six months after completing their Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to get a booster.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to expand eligibility for Pfizer later this week and CDC approval could come soon after. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is expected to meet Friday to discuss expansions for booster eligibility.

Some states have leapfrogged FDA eligibility approval of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by lifting the restrictions themselves. Among those lifting the restrictions early are California, New Mexico, Arkansas, West Virginia and Colorado, according to the Associated Press

Staff writers Craig Mauger and Sarah Rahal contributed.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com