SUBSCRIBE NOW
$1 for 3 months. Save 97%.
SUBSCRIBE NOW
$1 for 3 months. Save 97%.

Health experts, Blake Griffin to serve on Michigan's COVID-19 vaccine commission

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order Thursday to create a bipartisan commission aimed at raising awareness about the soon-to-arrive COVID-19 vaccine.

The governor announced the new Protect Michigan Commission during a Thursday afternoon press briefing, nine months into the state's fight against a virus that's been linked to more than 10,000 deaths here. The panel's chairs will include Detroit Pistons player Blake Griffin, former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, a Republican, and health experts, like Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, whose research helped expose the Flint water crisis.

The nation is "on the brink of great breakthroughs" when it comes to an effective vaccine for COVID-19, Whitmer said.

"This bipartisan group of leaders is uniquely equipped to help reinforce the importance of everyone getting vaccinated," she added. "Until we eliminate COVID-19 once and for all, we must continue to wear masks, practice safe social distancing, and wash hands frequently. Let’s all continue to do our part.”

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive, will also serve on the new commission. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is "actively preparing" to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine when one is approved, Khaldun said Thursday.

The first approval could come as early as next week, she said. Michigan expects to receive about 84,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in its first allocation.

Another vaccine from Moderna could receive federal approval later this month. Michigan expects to get about 173,000 doses of that vaccine in its first shipment, Khaldun said, citing data from the federal government.

The first priorities for vaccination in Michigan will be front-line healthcare workers and people living and working in long-term care facilities, Khaldun said.

"We hope that by late spring, we will be able to offer the vaccine to the general public," Khaldun said. "It is important that every adult in this state start making plans for getting the vaccine."

Under the new executive order, the vaccine commission will feature "at least 50 members appointed by the governor representing various sectors and communities within this state." The commission will help elevate the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine and assist in the distribution of educational materials about it.

Griffin, the Detroit Pistons player, is among the well-known names on the new panel. Whitmer highlighted the fact that he donated $100,000 to help compensate workers at Little Caesars Arena, where the Pistons play their home games, during the pandemic.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist will also help chair the new commission.

"With a safe and effective vaccine on the horizon, the Protect Michigan Commission is bringing our state together once again to ensure that every Michigander has the information and resources they need to get vaccinated at the appropriate time," Gilchrist said. "Our clearest path to healthy communities, a growing economy, and kids learning in their classrooms is through this vaccine."

The announcement came as a Food and Drug Administration panel of independent experts on Thursday was reviewing an emergency approval of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine.

Thursday's briefing was Whitmer's first since announcing an extension of restrictions on restaurants, movie theaters and high schools. On Monday, the governor revealed her administration would extend its epidemic order suspending indoor dining at restaurants and in-person instruction at high schools and colleges amid elevated levels of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Initially, the restrictions, which targeted places people gather, were scheduled to be in effect for three weeks, expiring at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services extended the policies, which also closed movie theaters, bowling alleys and indoor gym glasses, 12 more days to now expire at 11:59 p.m. Dec. 20, five days before Christmas.

Michigan's COVID-19 tracking numbers provide some reason for optimism that a recent surge might be leveling off. Last week brought the second straight week with decreases in overall new case confirmations. Statewide hospitalizations of adults with the virus have dropped slightly.

Six of the state's eight regions have experienced decreases in hospitalizations since last week, according to a Wednesday presentation by Sarah Lyon-Callo, director of the state's Bureau of Epidemiology and Population Health.

But hospitals and nursing homes remain worried about the prevalence of the coronavirus and the toll it's taking on the health care industry. Nursing homes continue to face "concerning trends," including sharply increasing resident and staff cases and resident deaths, AARP Michigan said in a Thursday statement.

“With coronavirus surging across the country, nursing home residents remain in grave danger as the virus reenters nursing homes and other facilities at an alarming pace,” said Paula D. Cunningham, state director of the AARP Michigan.

Another potentially problematic sign is the rate of COVID-19 tests bringing positive results jumped above 14% last week, the weekly highest positivity rate of the second wave, according to state data. Health officials are also waiting to see what impact Thanksgiving gatherings will have on COVID-19 infection rates.

cmauger@detroitnews.com