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Michigan likely moving people 75+ higher on vaccine priority list

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Michigan will likely update its vaccination distribution planby putting people 75 and older higher on the list, making them part of “Phase 1B.” Previously, that category included just “frontline essential workers,” a large group including  teachers, corrections staff, first responders and others. 

The move comes after a CDC advisory panel voted over the weekend to change its previous recommendations, which Michigan health officials say they’ll likely follow.

“MDHHS is reviewing its guidance following recent [Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices] discussions and anticipates that the priority groups will be updated in the coming days,” spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin said in an email Monday.

It’s the latest in a tense debate over who should get the vaccine next: essential workers like manufacturing and grocery store employees, whose jobs often don’t provide a stay-at-home option and who (in some industries) are more likely to be people of color?  Or older adults, who have the highest COVID mortality rates of any age group? 

Crucially, the state already has “vulnerable residents in long-term care facilities” (including retirement homes, psychiatric hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and others) as part of Phase 1A.

Credit Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
MDHHS is considering moving people aged 75 and over into Phase 1b of the vaccine distribution plan. Currently, that group is in Phase 1c.

Beyond that, the state’s current vaccination plan doesn’t break the “75 and older” cohort into a separate category. Rather, it lists those 65 and older as part of “Phase 1C,” along with people with health conditions that put them at “high risk of negative COVID-19 outcome.” Nationally, those adults make up 25% of COVID hospitalizations, according to the advisory panel, and the risk of dying once hospitalized increases with age.

Under the changes proposed by the advisory panel this weekend, that 1C category would remain the same, with those 75 and older getting bumped up to an earlier phase.

States are left to decide when to move from one priority group to another, though the phases may overlap. That means everyone in a priority group doesn’t have to be fully vaccinated before the state can move on to another, as is happening with healthcare workers and staff in long term care facilities.

That timing will also depend on the specific supply and demand situation in different counties - areas with fewer healthcare workers may be able to move on to additional phases sooner, for instance.

The state has already distributedmore than 140,000 across 300 sites - most of them hospitals.  More than 13,000 of those doses have actually been administered. MDHHS plans to receive roughly 120,000 more doses this week - half from Pfizer and half from Moderna. “It is our understanding that those numbers will remain consistent through the end of the year,” Sutfin said.

Updated December 21, 2020 at 5:25 pm. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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