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Michiganders 50 or older with underlying conditions next up for COVID vaccine

Increased rates of vaccination among Michigan residents 65 and older may have saved 250 lives, according to a Bridge Michigan analysis of state mortality data. (Shutterstock photo)

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

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Wednesday a major expansion of Michigan COVID vaccine eligibility, allowing people as young as 50 years old who have either an underlying health condition or a disability to get a coronavirus vaccine beginning next Monday.

The expansion comes as waves of additional doses of the vaccine are flowing into states: Michigan was expected to get nearly 500,000 doses this week alone, more than double the 237,000 doses the state has gotten, on average, the last five weeks


The governor said people ages 50 and older with underlying health conditions or disabilities will be eligible starting next week and all people 50 and older in the coming weeks. Those eligible will also include caregiver family members and guardians who care for children with special health care needs.

“The more people we can get the safe and effective vaccine, the faster we can return to a sense of normalcy,” Whitmer said in a statement. “I urge all eligible Michiganders to get one of the three COVID-19 vaccines to protect you, your family and your community.”

So far, the state’s vaccination program has largely focused on health-care workers, people in long-term care facilities, those 65 and older and workers in “essential” businesses.  

As of Tuesday, 807,000 — 46 percent — of the state’s 1.77 million seniors have gotten at least the first dose of a two-dose regimen required for the first two vaccines approved in Michigan. Of those, 383,000 have gotten both doses.

All told, 1.46 million Michigan residents have gotten one dose and 834,000 have gotten both.

Now, with the vaccine manufacturers promising millions more doses, Whitmer has broadened eligibility and has said in coming weeks it could include everyone 50 years of age or older.

There are over 2 million people in Michigan between the ages of 50 and 65, or about 20 percent of the state’s nearly 10 million people. 

Under the state’s vaccination plan, updated on Feb. 15, the state has indicated what kind of health conditions might be prioritized under an expansion, 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 list also includes those who smoke because they, too, are at higher risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19 and thus more likely to be hospitalized or die.

The expansion will undoubtedly be a relief to countless Michiganders, said Susan Ringler-Cerniglia, spokeswoman for the Washtenaw County Health Department.

Ringler-Cerniglia said Wednesday she had not yet been alerted to any expansion plans, but added: “We get flooded with people who want to tell us why they should be prioritized (for a vaccine) because of their health conditions.”

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But just as likely, it will add to confusion, too, in the state’s sometimes halting rollout of coveted vaccines.

It’s not immediately clear whether residents will have to provide medical records or some other evidence of an underlying condition. While a person’s own medical provider may have that record, a vaccine clinic — a pop-up clinic by a health department at a fairground, for example —  may not have access to those records.

Tiffany Sanford
In trying to get as many Michiganders vaccinated as possible, “I’ve instructed my staff not to nitpick the details over a patient,” said Dr. Tiffany Sanford, chief medical officer of The Wellness Plan, which has been reaching out to patients 60 and older. (Courtesy photo)

Dr. Tiffany Sanford, chief medical officer at Detroit-based The Wellness Plan Medical Centers, said she hasn’t received guidance from the state or local health departments about checking medical records for those who ask for vaccines but who aren’t patients of The Wellness Plan.

By next week, Sanford said, all five Wellness sites in Detroit, Oak Park and Pontiac likely will offer vaccines because of the extra supply on its way. The sites already have begun reaching out to schedule regular patients who are 60 and older and have chronic conditions. And for those who aren’t patients but who are scheduling vaccine appointments through The Wellness Plan clinics, the online form asks about chronic conditions.

“Ultimately, it’s about getting vaccines in as many arms as possible,” Sanford said.

For now, she added: “I’ve instructed my staff not to nitpick the details over a patient. If we have a vaccine left from a person we have to turn away, that’s a vaccine that we have to find someone else to give.”

Other states have expanded eligibility based on health histories, including Ohio, which has included younger people with underlying health conditions.

Michigan began vaccinating frontline healthcare and emergency workers and residents and staff in long-term care facilities in December, when vaccines were first approved for emergency use in the U.S. Whitmer then expanded eligibility to those 65 years and older in January. It was earlier than expected, and set off a frenzied effort to reach older residents who have faced a dizzying and disconnected array of web sites, phone numbers and waiting lists and sometimes have been frustrated by line jumpers.

The latest expansion began Monday when frontline essential workers in Michigan food processing and agricultural industries became eligible for vaccines.

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