Vaccine eligibility expansion hits supply challenges

Feb 26, 2021

Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services will expand eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines starting Monday, but local health departments said they don’t yet expect to be able to accommodate the increased demand.

A healthcare worker receives the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine last month at Beaumont Health.
Credit Beaumont Health

The state will include food processing and agricultural workers in its list of priority vaccination groups.

But in the central Michigan health district, which covers six counties, health officer Steve Hall said his staff had not yet finished vaccinating people in the state’s initial priority group of people older than 65.

“It’s going to take a while,” Hall said. “We keep preaching patience.”

The state health department announced the updated eligibility guidance on February 15, but local health departments were still trying to iron out the details less than 72 hours before they were set to take effect.

Hall said it wasn’t clear whether his department would be able to get more vaccine doses to cover the increased number of eligible people.

Officials at other health departments said they would be working through the weekend to get plans set for Monday.

“We’re trying to make sure we serve the new group of eligible people while also not leaving anyone behind,” said Scott Izzo, one of the community health directors for District Health Department No. 2, which covers four counties in the northeastern part of the state.

“We’ll have more details next week,” he said.

Local health departments in Michigan also said they would need help from farmers and plant operators to reach migrant workers who are eligible for vaccines.

The state health department said vaccinating food processing workers is important to protect the state and national food supply. 

“In Michigan and across the country, there have been significant outbreaks particularly in workers processing meat, fruit and vegetables, and in harvesting of some crops,” the department said.

COVID-19 has shut down operations at food processing plants in several states.