Michigan Republicans 'not willing' to help boost vaccinations, Lt. Gov. said

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Republican lawmakers in Michigan have been unwilling to take steps that would encourage more people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, a Democrat, claimed during a radio interview Thursday.

A spokesman for one of the state's GOP leaders pushed back on Gilchrist's statement. But a spokeswoman for another Republican leader indicated it was correct.

Gilchrist of Detroit, the second-highest-ranking state official, made the remark during an interview on WDET's "Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson" as Michigan's vaccination coverage rates have slowed significantly in recent weeks. A caller asked if Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration had considered providing tax credits to entice businesses to require employees to get vaccinated.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist

Such a policy would need the Republican-controlled Legislature's approval to be enacted. Gilchrist responded to the caller that in terms of state policy, the "politicization" of the vaccine had been a challenge in the state's efforts to increase vaccinations.

"Michigan Republicans have shown themselves not willing or not interested in doing things to encourage people to get vaccinated at a high level," Gilchrist said.

The lieutenant governor didn't identify which specific initiatives for boosting vaccinations GOP lawmakers have blocked. However, in July, Whitmer said the Legislature was unwilling to change a state law to help with a lottery program to offer $5 million in prizes to spur more people to get their shots.

Asked if Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, is supportive of state efforts to encourage more people to get vaccinated, Shirkey's spokeswoman Abby Walls said he isn't.

"He has expressed concern about the coercive nature of things like vaccine lotteries," Walls said.

But Gideon D'Assandro, spokesman for House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, said Gilchrist's comment was a "lazy stereotype."

"It sounds like he's looking for someone to blame for falling short of his own promises," D'Assandro said.

Wentworth had advocated for free vaccine appointments that are as easy to schedule as possible and for better access to vaccines for rural families, D'Assandro said. Wentworth has also shared information with local residents about vaccine clinics, he said.

The Michigan State Medical Society, which represents more than 15,000 physicians and medical students, has said vaccinating as many people as possible as quickly as possible is "vital to the public's overall health."

Vaccination efforts have garnered new attention in recent weeks as COVID-19 cases have begun rising in most states across the country. Federal health officials have said the more contagious delta variant accounts for 83% of new U.S. coronavirus infections.

Yet, Michigan ranks among the bottom nine states for increases in vaccine coverage during the month of July, according to analysis of federal records. And the state is on pace not to reach Whitmer's goal of having 70% of the population age 16 and older vaccinated until December, according to the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency.

Overall, for the entirety of the vaccine campaign, Michigan is near the middle of the pack nationally for vaccine coverage. As of Wednesday, 63% of the state's population age 16 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

cmauger@detroitnews.com