Michigan ready to open COVID-19 vaccine to people over age 50

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Beth LeBlanc and Charles E. Ramirez, The Detroit News
·4 min read
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Mar. 3—DEARBORN — The state of Michigan is preparing to open COVID-19 vaccine availability to people over 50 years old with health risks, such as preexisting conditions or disabilities, starting Monday.

People over the age of 50, regardless of health condition, are eligible to begin receiving the vaccine starting March 22, according to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office.

More than 2.2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Michigan through Sunday, including 1.4 million first doses, according to state data. That means about 800,000 Michiganians have been fully vaccinated.

The state is expected to receive its largest vaccine shipment this week — nearly 500,000 doses, including 82,700 doses of the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine. The Pfizer and Moderna manufacture two-shot vaccines.

The state health department is making the move because the state will have a historic number of vaccine doses available in the next couple of weeks, Whitmer said at an unrelated Tuesday press conference in Dearborn. About 400,000 vaccine doses will come from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, she said.

"We want to be able to expand (distribution), and we're in a position to do it," Whitmer said.

"That's great news and we're going to be one of the first states in the nation to do it," she said. "That's because we will have this many vaccines on hand."

Whitmer added that she is encouraged that the state has hit its goal of administering 50,000 daily vaccine doses for 16 days straight. "And with this additional vaccines, we could take it higher than that," she said.

The eligibility expansion comes as the Democratic governor has expressed more optimism about the state's fight against COVID-19. On Tuesday, Whitmer announced that her administration had issued wide-ranging epidemic orders that would ease coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses, nursing homes and other gatherings. She called it "good news" for Michigan.

The new policies will allow larger outdoor events to resume, double capacity limits at restaurants from 25% to 50% and move the curfew for indoor dining from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. starting on Friday and running through April 19.

The state health department is also relaxing capacity limits on retail stores, moving them from 30% to 50%. The limitation on indoor household gatherings will go from 10 people from two households to 15 people from three households. Those orders also take effect on Friday and run for six weeks.

The latest directives also allow family members who test negative for COVID-19 immediately to visit relatives in a nursing home as long as the facility has not had a new COVID-19 case in the last 14 days. The visitation order marks the first time since early in the pandemic that nursing homes across the state have been open for visits. Visitation allowances had previously depended on COVID-19 metrics showing low risk within a given county.

But the easing of restrictions came as certain COVID-19 metrics stopped showing improvement.

Hospitalizations are up 5% since last week, the first increase since December, according to the state health department. About 3.7% of tests are returning positive, the first increase in nine weeks.

As of Tuesday, Michigan has the second highest number of cases of the virus variant B.1.1.7. with 437 cases — 300 cases are within the Michigan Department of Corrections. Florida has the most, 600 cases of the variant from the United Kingdom that is considered more contagious than the typical virus and potentially more deadly.

Whitmer in early January opened vaccinations to people over 65 and other essential workers after the initial phase of distribution that focused on front-line health care workers and long-term care facility residents and workers.

In February, the state allowed health providers with specific plans to remove socioeconomic barriers to the vaccine to begin requesting vaccine for people over the age of 60. The state also began to prioritize vaccines for mortuary workers and roughly 79,000 workers in food processing and agricultural settings.

For the week ending March 1, 49% of residents 75 years old and up had received one dose while 24.5% had completed their vaccinations, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The one-dose rate dipped to 44% for those age 65-74 years old and 20% who had finished their two-shot vaccinations.

The rate for those 50-64 years old was 13% had received one dose, while about 8% had completed their two-dose vaccinations.

Staff Writer Sarah Rahal contributed.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com