Northern Michigan health departments accelerate past state in expanding vaccine eligibility

Mar 4, 2021

Local health districts in Northern Michigan said Thursday they will expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility at a faster pace than what's laid out in state guidelines.

Boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant in Portage, Mich. on Dec. 13, 2020. Some local health districts in Michigan are expanding vaccine eligibility faster than the state health department recommended.
Credit Morry Gash / AP

Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services said earlier this week that anyone older than 50 could get vaccinated against the disease starting on Monday, March 22. People in that age group could get vaccinated earlier -- March 8 -- if they had a pre-existing condition that would make them particularly vulnerable to the virus.

But several Northern Michigan health districts said their March 8 eligibility expansion will include anyone over 50, regardless of pre-existing conditions.

In the Northwest and Benzie-Leelanau district health departments, which cover six counties in the northern Lower Peninsula, health officer Lisa Peacock said the state allows for local adjustments to prioritization guidelines. She said for her districts, simplifying the eligibility steps would get more people vaccinated faster.

“We will not be vetting for medical conditions,” Peacock said. “Given our smaller population, it probably would take more time to try and sort out who would be eligible within that 50-and-older age group than to just vaccinate all of them.”

District Health Department No. 4, which covers a collection of counties just south of the Mackinac Bridge, and the LMAS District Health Department, which covers four counties just north of the bridge, both said they’re taking the same tack.

Kerry Ott, the spokesperson for the LMAS department, said the waitlist for vaccines there had dwindled, as local health workers had been able to vaccinate almost all of the people older than 65 or in high-priority groups based on their jobs who had signed up to get a shot.

She said anyone in those high-priority groups who has not gotten vaccinated yet won’t be left behind. “We will continue to vaccinate anyone in those groups who may have had some hesitation about the vaccine who would now like to receive it,” she said.

The health districts that are offering vaccine appointments to anyone 50 or older starting March 8 will also expand appointments to people in certain high-risk jobs, regardless of age. Included are:

  • Food and agriculture workers
  • Utilities or critical manufacturing workers
  • Public transit workers
  • Grocery store workers
  • U.S. Postal Service workers
  • Other frontline essential workers whom the state deems critical to maintaining infrastructure, services and funtions and whose work must be performed on-site and close to other people.

Several districts said their vaccine supplies are growing and becoming more reliable, which allows them to schedule more people for appointments.

The number of places vaccines are available has also grown. In addition to local health districts, some pharmacies and community health centers are also getting doses.

Peacock, the health officer for district 4 and Benzie-Leelanau, said people should check with their local health district to find out where vaccines are available near them.