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What Gretchen Whitmer told us about COVID vaccines for kids, auto law changes, and more


Young kids across the state began getting COVID-19 vaccinations today, as the CDC allowed administration of the shot for children ages 5 to 11.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced last week she was ordering doses for kids in anticipation of approval from the FDA and CDC.

Vaccine administration among Michigan's remaining vulnerable population - school age kids - is a major hurdle for Whitmer's administration to clear.

But the pandemic isn't over, and there are still ongoing issues to address as the governor rounds out the calendar year. Stateside’s April Baer spoke with Governor Whitmer about child vaccines, changes to Michigan’s auto insurance laws, and Benton Harbor’s lead problem.

On Covid-19 vaccine distribution for kids 5-11

“I think that pediatricians are going to be hugely important here. Parents are going to have questions. They're going to want to make sure that they're talking to the person with the expertise who treats their child when they're not feeling well, when they are feeling well, who checks on them every year. And so I would anticipate that those will be the most important messengers and deliverers of this incredibly potent, incredibly effective, safe vaccine,” said Whitmer.

She adds, the state has ordered over 287,000 Pfizer BioNTech vaccines to stay ahead of demand.

“I know that our providers have been incredibly stretched thin and they're exhausted, and we want to make sure that we do everything we can to support them as they support our people, protecting themselves from this virus that persists and keeps mutating. And so we've got to do everything we can to get people vaccinated, and we're grateful for their partnership.”

When it comes to school districts willing to help with vaccine distribution, Whitmer said conversations with the State Department of Education and school leaders are ongoing.

“…we anticipate that with different districts, we will continue to build on those relationships because we want to make sure that decision makers have got all the information that when they are ready to move forward and create vaccine opportunities for their student body, that it's easy and that we're successful on all fronts.”

On changes to Michigan’s auto insurance laws

Governor Whitmer this week called on the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association to liquidate its considerable surplus and to send that money back to auto insurance customers as rebate checks.

“When we changed our no-fault law, it was to give people some relief, give them the ability to make decisions on what kind of coverage they chose and to make sure that they got some financial relief as a result of it. We've got over $5 billion of surplus in our catastrophic care fund. So that's why I've called on them to deliver refund checks to every Michigander with auto insurance. Checks in pockets and one of the best things we can do to support Michiganders and grow our economy.”

In addition to the surplus the changes in the law also made things change a lot for auto crash victims who've lost their home care, as Michigan Radio has reported. Insurance companies simply stopped paying out claims. Whitmer says it’s now up to the Legislature to work with her administration to extend coverage for qualifying victims.

“And with regard to people that were covered by the catastrophic claim fund, it still has a healthy balance. And that's why we think it's important that DIFS [Department of Insurance and Financial Services] continues to hold insurers accountable and make sure that they are paying out what is owed to providers in the care of people who've been catastrophically injured. And it's also why I think, I'd love for the Legislature to work with me to extend coverage for people that were injured prior to July of last year. They accrued a benefit. I think that they should receive it, and that's something that I would love for the Legislature to work with me on to make sure that happens.”

On lead problems in Benton Harbor

“Every family should have access to safe drinking water in their homes, and my administration has been working incredibly hard to replace lead infrastructure across Michigan. We've committed to replacing 100 percent of the Benton Harbor lead lines," said Whitmer.

The city's problems with lead and its water system have been serious for some time now, and the EPA, just in the past few days, directed the city to get its notifications in its corrosion control formula in order as soon as possible. The state has been delivering free drinking water and millions of dollars for lead line removal. Health interventions for the residents who've already been affected by lead and other pollutants is still a concern to many residents and local leaders.

"Lieutenant Governor and I both have spent quite a bit of time in Benton Harbor…We've secured nearly $20 million and plan to get an additional $10 million. We're providing bottled water. We've got to work across state government, across different levels of government and be multifaceted. And that's why we're bringing a whole of government approach here to support the community to remediate anyone who has been had exposure and to fix the problem long-term.”

To hear more of the conversation with Whitmer on Stateside, click on the audio player above.

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Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
Mercedes Mejia is a producer and director of Stateside.
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