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Michigan residents 16 and older eligible for COVID vaccine by April 5

For now, which booster you can receive will depend on which vaccine you originally took for protection against COVID-19. (Bridge file photo)

March 29: Whitmer tells providers to vaccinate 16 and up

All Michiganders 16 and older, regardless of health status, will be eligible for a COVID vaccine beginning April 5, the state announced Friday.

Some places have moved ahead already, in fact.

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Less than an hour after the state made its announcement, the LMAS District Health Department in the eastern Upper Peninsula announced it is scheduling appointments immediately for anyone 16 and older.

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    It’s possible for the agency to do this now because of the expectation for more vaccines to flood into Michigan, said Kerry Ott, spokesperson for the department that covers Luce, Mackinac, Algiers and Schoolcraft counties.

    For people 16 and older with a disability or medical condition that place them at higher risk from COVID-19, eligibility will begin March 22, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday. The state had previously said only residents 50 or older, regardless of health issues, were eligible beginning March 22. 

    The state’s vaccination plan has evolved over time. Before Friday, the state’s plan had opened eligibility this past week to those 50 and up with certain disabilities and health conditions including COPD, hypertension, chronic kidney disease, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Others are outlined here by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    The Friday announcement may be welcome news to some, but frustrating for others in previously prioritized groups, including many seniors, who are still waiting to secure an appointment for a vaccine when they’ve been eligible for weeks or more.

    It was not immediately clear whether or how providers will prioritize Michiganders based on their risk since the April 5 opening means healthy teenagers and older people with health problems will be equally eligible.

    The state said that in setting priorities, providers should “consider an individual’s risk of exposure due to their employment and their vulnerability to severe disease in determining how to schedule appointments.”

    Friday’s announcement comes a day after President Joe Biden announced that he would direct states to make all adults eligible for a vaccine by May 1. He also said his aim is that the country “may” be able to gather for Independence Day celebrations by July 4.

    More specifically, he vowed to more than double the number of federally-run mass vaccination centers, run by FEMA, the U.S. military, and other federal agencies.  Another  4,000 or more active-duty troops will be deployed to support vaccination efforts.

    Among those sites will be Ford Field in Detroit, which will be able to administer 6,000 shots a day, according to the White House.

    Additionally, vaccines would be delivered to an additional 700 community health centers across the country that specifically reach out to underserved communities, increasing the number to 950 centers in all, and would double the number of pharmacies participating in the federal pharmacy program to 20,000.

    In a prepared statement, Whitmer, like Biden a Democrat, said the vaccines are essential to “getting our country back to normal, so that we can all hug our families, get back to work, go to restaurants, send our kids to school, play sports and get together again.”

    MDHHS had recently moved forward with vaccinations of residents 50 and older with medical conditions or disabilities and caregiver family members and guardians who care for children with special health care needs as of Monday, March 8.

    Lifting the eligibility cap completely may be welcome news for those who advocate for people with disabilities. Many have called for pushing those with disabilities further ahead in the vaccine line.

    “It really can be a matter of life or death,” said Michelle Roberts, executive director of Disability Rights Michigan, in the same prepared statement.

    The state warned that it may take “several weeks” beyond April 5 for everyone to get a vaccine or even an appointment.

    LMAS has moved quickly through its eligibility groups, Ott said, not only because it’s a less populated region but that it was able to use local and longstanding partnerships with local health providers and pharmacies to more efficiently distribute the vaccine.

    That’s not the same everywhere, she said.

    “I’ve heard of a gentleman who is 76 (elsewhere) in the U.P. who has done everything right and still can’t get in (for a vaccine)” she said.

    But Ott said expanding early for all groups also allows younger, vaccine-hesitant Michiganders to get the vaccine more time to get comfortable with it as they see their peers receive it safely.

    Additionally, she said, “every time we open up, we find stragglers from the last group.”

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