Starting January 11, some frontline essential workers and anyone over the age of 65 will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced on Wednesday. That’s a pivot from the CDC’s guidance, which recommends only allowing those over the age of 75 to be part of the next phase of vaccinations, along with frontline workers.
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“The state is entering a new phase in our vaccinations,” Whitmer said. “By January 11th, all counties may begin vaccinating Michiganders who are 65 and up. This will include some essential workers who will also be vaccinated. Workers like our school and childcare staff, frontline local, state and federal first responders, and staff in our jails and prisons and shelters.”
Here’s what this means for you.
When can I get vaccinated?
Right now, it’s still only open to healthcare workers, and staff and residents of long term care facilities. But starting January 11, you’ll be eligible if you’re over 65, or if you're a “frontline essential worker” in a few key industries (childcare/education, first responders, corrections and congregate housing.)
“As hospitals near fulfillment of vaccinating all willing and eligible healthcare workers, now is the appropriate time to ramp up and vaccinate more Michiganders, more quickly,” Brian Peters, CEO of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, said in an emailed statement Wednesday. “Over 140,000 healthcare workers have already expressed their belief in the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.”
And of course, just because someone is eligible to receive the vaccine, doesn’t mean the state will have enough doses for everyone in that group. Whitmer’s administration is asking for patience, as supplies from the federal government are still limited.
Wait, so how is this different from the original plan?
Initially, the state’s priority plan post-health care workers and long term care residents followed CDC guidance, and looked like this:
- Phase 1A: Health care personnel, and long-term care residents and staff
- Phase 1B: Essential frontline workers, school and childcare staff, and people 75 years and older
- Phase 1C: Other essential workers, people 65-74 years old, and people 16 years and older who are at high risk of severe illness
- Phase 2: All individuals over 16 years old
But with the new guidance announced Wednesday, it looks like the Whitmer administration is essentially moving those over 65 up closer to the front of the line, starting on January 11.
It’s important to remember that parts of these phases may overlap, as state health officials keep stressing - so health care workers will still be able to get vaccinated even as the pool of eligibility widens.
Who’s in this first wave of “frontline essential workers?”
The state’s saying in-person educators and childcare workers, first responders, corrections workers, and “workers in homeless shelters, congregate child care institutions, and adult and child protective services” are at the front of the line.
Those who are not included in the January 11 group, according to MDHHS spokesperson Lynn Sutfin, include: "Food and agriculture workers, critical manufacturing workers, public transit workers, grocery store workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, [and] workers with unique skill sets not covered above, such as non-hospital laboratories and mortuary services."
What should I do if I’m in that group (over 65/frontline essential worker?)
It sounds like for essential workers, the state’s going to try to manage this through their employer, some which have already started compiling information from their workers about who wants to be vaccinated and how much risk they face on the job.
“Eligible frontline essential workers will be notified by their employers about vaccine clinic dates and locations,” the state’s website says. “These workers include school and childcare staff, frontline responders, and corrections staff.”
For everyone else, appointments will be managed through the local health departments, though only Ingham County and LMAS (Luce, Mackinac, Alger, Schoolcraft) health departments were listed on the state’s website as currently booking appointments.
But the link to LMAS’s website says, actually, no, they’re not quite ready to book those appointments. “Unfortunately, we cannot give you exact timelines right now due to staffing resources, and uncertainties about vaccine supplies at any particular time.”
Meanwhile, Ingham County’s website says the first appointments are available to “pre-kindergarten through high school teachers and support staff who usually have direct contact with children, and people age 70 and up” and who are residents of Ingham County. Those who are interested are asked to fill out an online survey.
Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail says they’ve already started vaccinating some firefighters and police officers, as demand from health care workers for vaccine appointments slows down. That’s partly because they’re easier to reach en masse and get scheduled quickly, so clinics don’t have open appointments and available vaccines don't sit around unused.
“We’re vaccinating roughly 350 a day [in our clinic] and we only had 40 appointments scheduled for Wednesday,” Vail says. “So I said, ‘It’s time to let law enforcement and fire departments know that it’s coming.’ And then that filled up. We vaccinated 410 people on Wednesday.”
One of the big challenges will be identifying, informing, and scheduling older people who may not have the tools to navigate a complicated online appointment system.
“So [we’ll be] working with the Area Agency on Aging Tri-County Office and other networks,” Vail says. “It really is about networking within systems that reach the people that you can reach. Because...we can use the media, we can put it on our website, we can create a scheduling link. But, you know, we're also talking about an elderly population that may or may not be very tech and internet savvy. And so that can't be the only way that we reach out to folks.”
Asked about that potentially significant tech barrier, MDHHS spokesperson Lynn Sutfin said both the state and local health departments “will be reaching out to specific populations to be vaccinated since it will be a targeted approach. Also, we will communicate via the media as we move to vaccinating different priority groups. Providers will also be asked to reach out to their patients as we reach the various priority groups.”
This post was updated January 6 at 5:15 pm.