Michigan’s health department leaders announced their prioritization plans for distributing the coronavirus vaccines Friday afternoon, Dec. 11.
Health care workers will be first in line, along with residents and staff of long-term care facilities. Other essential workers will come next, followed by people at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness due to underlying medical conditions and people 65 years and older.
While distribution has been divided among four phases, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive for the Department of Health and Human Services, said some phases will have overlap, depending on dose availability.
“The COVID-19 vaccine will help all our communities eliminate the virus,” Khaldun said. “Because initial allocations of vaccine will be limited, we must prioritize how the vaccine will be distributed across the state and will use the guidance and principles outlined by the CDC and national experts. We want every adult to be planning now for how they will get their vaccine once it becomes available to them.”
MDHHS estimates the first phase of distribution will begin later this month and span about five weeks. The timeline estimates the fourth grouping — all remaining individuals 18 and older — to begin receiving the vaccine in weeks 15-20, or in late March/early April.
Khaldun said the health department’s goal is to vaccinate 70% of Michigan adults, or about 5.4 million people, by the end of 2021.
Prioritization is based on recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which is made up of medical and public health experts who develop recommendations on the use of vaccines in the U.S.
The phases are as follows:
- Phase 1A includes paid and unpaid persons serving in health care settings who have direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious materials and are unable to work from home, as well as residents of long-term care facilities.
- Phase 1B includes some workers in essential and critical industries, including workers with unique skill sets such as non-hospital or non-public health laboratories and mortuary services.
- Phase 1C includes people at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness due to underlying medical conditions, and people 65 years and older.
- Phase 2 is a mass vaccination campaign for all adults.
The first COVID-19 vaccine, from Pfizer and BioNTech, is expected to be approved for emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration in the coming days following a Thursday vote by the FDA’s advisory panel in favor of the authorization.
Meanwhile, Moderna’s vaccine is a step behind and is expected to receive FDA approval before the end of the year. Both vaccines showed better than 90% effectiveness during Phase 3 trials.
Distribution of vaccines will be handled by hospitals, local health departments, pharmacies, EMS, the Michigan National Guard, and outpatient clinics. The initial allocation of the Pfizer vaccine will send doses to 56 Michigan hospitals and 16 local health departments.
The minimum age for receiving Pfizer’s vaccine is 18, though the FDA’s advisory panel recommended emergency use authorization for individuals 16 and older. Khaldun said she was aware of the recommendation, and she’d base Michigan’s recommendations on official guidance from the FDA.
The state’s top doctor said it is important to note that while scientists worldwide are working to develop a COVID-19 vaccine faster than any vaccine before, they are still following the proven process. Scientists had already begun research for coronavirus vaccines during previous outbreaks caused by related coronaviruses such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). That earlier research provided a head start for rapid development of vaccines to protect against infection with COVID-19.
“The process for approval of a COVID-19 vaccine is scientifically sound, and no steps have been skipped,” Khaldun said. “People should know what to expect when they get a vaccine- such as mild side effects like a sore arm or low-grade fever. They should also plan on making sure they get their second dose to make sure they get the full benefit of the vaccine.”
The Pfizer vaccine doesn’t contain the actual coronavirus. Instead, they’re made with a piece of genetic code for the “spike” protein that studs the virus. That messenger RNA, or mRNA, instructs the body to make some harmless spike protein, training immune cells to recognize it if the real virus eventually comes along.
Khaldun noted that many people will get mild symptoms like a sore arm, low-grade fever or “general malaise,” which indicates that your immune system is responding to the vaccine. Other symptoms reported during trials include chills, fatigue, headache, and muscle or joint pain.
Four individuals in Pfizer’s Phase 3 trial reported Bell’s palsy, which causes temporary weakness or paralysis of the muscles in the face, and two individuals with histories of allergic reactions in the UK reported having allergic reactions to the vaccine.
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