UM, MSU athletes at bottom of pecking order for COVID-19 vaccine

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

While student athletes at Michigan's Division I universities continue to be tested daily for the coronavirus, they will not be prioritized to receive the recently released vaccine.

Spokespeople at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University told The News there are no imminent plans to make the vaccine available to athletes.

Tom Izzo tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this year.

Pfizer's vaccine, which received FDA approval for emergency use Saturday, began rolling out of the company's Portage, Michigan-based headquarters Sunday, for shipments across the nation. Michigan Medicine received 1,950 doses Monday.

In a letter to the university community, Michigan president Mark Schlissel said Monday that it is set to start vaccinating prioritized people this week, starting with health-care workers.

Michigan has broken its priority down into four categories: Phase 1A) paid and unpaid health-care workers; Phase 1B) workers in "essential and critical industries"; Phase 1C) people in high-risk categories, including those with underlying health conditions and people 65 or older; and Phase 2) all adults.

Michigan and Michigan State are relying on recommendations from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control.

Michigan is asking staff and students to fill out a questionnaire indicating if they want to receive the vaccine. Michigan expects to get new vaccine shipments weekly.

Athletes aren't specifically mentioned in Schlissel's letter, but a spokesman said that would put them in the last category. Being younger, between the ages of 18 and 23, student athletes are considered low-risk for COVID-19 complications.

Most of the nation is expected to have access to the vaccine by the end of April, Dr. Anthony Fauci has said.

At Michigan, since testing began in June, 188 athletes have tested positive and 26 staff members have tested positive. The Wolverines canceled their last two football games, including last week's against Ohio State, because of a COVID-19 outbreak. Their basketball team has missed one game, but because N.C. State had to cancel.

At Michigan State, there have been 174 positive tests among athletes, and 13 positive tests among staff members. Its football team had one game canceled this season, but that was on Maryland; those two teams will play Saturday. The Spartans basketball team lost a game because Virginia had COVID-19 issues.

In deciding to restart sports, the Big Ten Conference, of which Michigan and Michigan State are members, mandated daily testing.

The Horizon League, of which Oakland and Detroit Mercy are members, and Mid-American Conference, home of Central Michigan, Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan, called for three or four days a week. But state guidelines have forced the smaller schools to test more often, at a significant cost. The state's mid-major schools have been in talks with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office to roll back required testing.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984