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Nearly 80,000 farm, agriculture workers eligible for vaccine March 1

a person holds a vaccine vial
Adobe Stock

On March 1, tens of thousands of Michiganders will be added to the growing pool of those eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the state health department announced Monday. An estimated 79,000 workers in the food processing and agricultural industries will be eligible as part of the “1B” category, making them the latest group to become eligible.

Healthcare workers, teachers and childcare workers, corrections workers, and those who work in group living settings (like homeless shelters and foster homes) are already eligible, as well as anyone over the age of 65.

Mortuary service workers will also be eligible now as part of the “1A” healthcare workers, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said.

And starting this week, 41 federally qualified health centers “in medically underserved areas” will start receiving shipments of the vaccine for distribution, in an effort to expand access to “enhance the state’s vaccine equity strategy.” Providers “with specific plans to remove barriers to access” will also be able to request vaccines for those over age 60, the state announced.

Farm, ag workers hit hard by COVID outbreaks

“This is excellent news,” says Diana Marin, supervising attorney at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. “We know that food and agricultural workers are on the front lines. They’re keeping us fed. And they’ve disproportionately been impacted by the coronavirus. So we’re really glad to see this change.”

Marin notes that workers will be eligible regardless of their immigration status.

“If you’re in that prioritization category, and you’re eligible based on the prioritization category, your immigration status does not play a role in accessing the vaccine,” Marin says.

Expanding eligibility now to workers in these industries is critical, a state spokesperson said, to keeping the food supply chain running and avoiding the kind of outbreaks seen last year.

“These groups have been connected with outbreaks at meat packing plants, dairies, greenhouses, and farms,” Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin said in an email Monday. “In the spring and summer of 2020, there were large ongoing outbreaks that can spread between locations and to the communities where these workers live. There was documented spread from work to group housing or apartment complexes.”

Demand is already way higher than supply

The announcement comes during a tense time in the vaccine’s rollout, as several major health systems and local health departments have been forced to cancel or reschedule appointments due to supply shortages.

Hours earlier, Beaumont Health announced it was putting a pause on making new first dose appointments, and rescheduling 1,884 second dose appointments scheduled for Thursday, due to “an unexpected and significant reduction in Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine allocation from the state of Michigan.”

The delay will mean those patients won’t get their second dose 21 days after receiving the first shot of the Pfizer vaccine as recommended.

“The health system is working to automatically reschedule all canceled appointments to one week later at the same time and on the same day of the week, as long as the state supplies enough vaccine,” a statement from the health system said. “Beaumont is also seeking more clarity from the state on these much needed second doses.

“While three weeks is the typical amount of time between the two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the vaccine remains effective when patients receive the second dose up to six weeks after the first dose.”

Henry Ford Health System executives said their supplies have been cut, too.

“We are seeing a decrease in our first-dose distribution,” said Bob Riney, Henry Ford’s President of Healthcare Operations and Chief Operating Officer. “And we have now been three weeks into about a 50% reduced supply from what we were originally seeing. And we've been told that it's a combination of just the pipeline issues in general, and then the goal of also distributing to public health departments, as well as some retail pharmacies, so that we can meet a variety of different communities in different ways.”

While the health system hasn’t had to cancel appointments yet, supplies are getting tight, said Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Adnan Munkarah.

“The problem is that currently we have to do both: give second doses, as well as try to see whether we can give first doses," he said. "So far, we've been able to manage the second doses. It is getting tight at times, and we are having to reach out to the state to help us, and others, when we are falling short on this. But this means that this is going at the expense of being able to vaccinate individuals or give new first doses.”

So far, the state has administered more than 1.6 million doses of COVID vaccines, according to the MDHHS dashboard.

Original post, February 15, 2021 at 4:56 p.m.: 

The Michigan Department of Health of Human Services announced a new program Monday to enhance the state’s equity strategy to reach more Michiganders with the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine.

“I am excited to announce initiatives that will help enhance the state’s equity strategy and allow us to get more vulnerable Michiganders vaccinated,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health. “Workers in higher risk agricultural settings have been adversely impacted by this pandemic.<--break->"We also know that we need to remove barriers to vaccine access for our most vulnerable individuals in Michigan, including those with disabilities, lower income, and racial and ethnic minorities. These steps will allow our federally qualified health centers across the state to begin vaccinating and will prioritize vaccine allocation to partnerships and providers who are removing barriers to access. This strategy is important as we move forward with our goal to equitably vaccinate 70% of Michiganders over age 16 and over as quickly as possible.”

Starting immediately, mortuary service workers, who routinely work with infectious materials, will be able to be vaccinated as part of group 1A in accordance with CDC and Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommendations.

In addition, 41 federally qualified health centers across the state will start receiving vaccine allocations to help vaccinate individuals age 65 and older. These community health centers are located in medically underserved areas to provide high-quality, affordable and comprehensive medical services to everyone – regardless of who they are, where they come from or their ability to pay. 

Workers in food processing and agricultural settings, about 79,000 Michiganders, will also be able to be vaccinated as of March 1. This will help ensure the health and safety of Michigan’s essential food and agriculture workers and keep the state’s food supply chain moving. 

MDHHS recently announced the state’s strategy to get 70% of Michiganders age 16 and older vaccinated as quickly as possible. The strategy is being guided by the following principles: 

  • All Michiganders have equitable access to vaccines.
  • Vaccine planning and distribution is inclusive and actively engages state and local government, public and private partners; and draws upon the experience and expertise of leaders from historically marginalized populations.  
  • Communications are transparent, accurate, and frequent public communications to build public trust.  
  • Data is used to promote equity, track progress and guide decision making. 
  • Resource stewardship, efficiency, and continuous quality improvement drive strategic implementation. 

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Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
Paulette is a digital media reporter and producer for Michigan Public. She started as a newsroom intern at the station in 2014 and has taken on various roles in that time, including filling in as an on-air host.
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