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State expanding vaccine eligibility

MARQUETTE — To help reach Michigan’s goal of vaccinating 70% of its residents over age 16 and bring a quicker end to the COVID-19 pandemic in the state, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services officials announced on Wednesday that the state is expanding vaccination eligibility.

This change follows the announcement by President Joe Biden that increased production will provide enough doses for 300 million Americans by the end of May.

Beginning Monday, MDHHS is moving forward with the vaccination of Michiganders age 50 and older with medical conditions or disabilities, and caregiver family members and guardians who care for children with special health care needs.

Starting March 22, vaccine eligibility will again expand to include all Michiganders 50 and older. To date, more than 40% of Michiganders age 65 and older have been vaccinated.

“The more people we can get the safe and effective vaccine, the faster we can return to a sense of normalcy,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. “I urge all eligible Michiganders to get one of the three COVID-19 vaccines to protect you, your family and your community. We’ve already administered over 2.3 million doses to Michiganders of all races and backgrounds, and (Tuesday’s) announcement that our national supply will be enough to protect all Americans by the end of May is incredible news.”

Whitmer continued to stress that people wear face masks, practice safe social distancing and avoid large indoor gatherings where COVID-19 can easily spread from person to person.

“Over 2.3 million doses of the safe and effective COVID vaccines have been administered in Michigan, and we know more vaccine is coming into the state, “ said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS, in a statement. “We are pleased to expand eligibility for more people to get vaccinated as we continue to focus on our most vulnerable and those at highest risk of severe illness due to COVID-19.

“We are well on our way to vaccinating 70% of Michiganders age 16 and up. With three safe and effective vaccines now authorized for use, people should get the first vaccine available to them. These vaccines are the way we are going to end this pandemic.”

All vaccine providers may begin vaccinating the two new priority groups of 50 and older with medical conditions or disabilities and caregiver family members and guardians who care for children with special health care needs by Monday. Those eligible to receive a vaccine should check the website of their local health department or hospital to find out their process or for registration forms, or check additional vaccination sites, such as local pharmacies like Meijer, Rite Aid or Cardinal Health.

Residents who don’t have access to the internet or who need assistance navigating the vaccine scheduling process can call the COVID-19 Hotline at 888-535-6136 (press 1) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. They can also call 2-1-1.

It is important to note that, while supplies are increasing, there remains a limited amount of vaccine available, so there may be a wait list for available appointments, the MDHHS said. As more vaccine becomes available, the state will continue to move more quickly through the priority groups.

Johnson & Johnson vaccine status updated

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently authorized Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine for adults ages 18 and older. The vaccine is deemed 85% effective in preventing severe disease. Michigan will receive 82,700 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week.

All three vaccines in circulation, including the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, have been found to demonstrate high efficacy against COVID-19, particularly with preventing hospitalizations, severe illness and death, the MDHHS said. The vaccines have comparable safety profiles, with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requiring only a single dose.

MDHHS is accelerating vaccination of high-risk individuals due to concern around disparity in life expectancy and in an effort to remove barriers to vaccine access.

Dr. Bob Lorinser, medical director at the Marquette County Health Department, said the county is expected to receive 500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week.

“That will be one of our options,” Lorinser said. “Now we’ll have three vaccines that we’ll be able to give out depending (on) what we have, when we have it, etc.”

The Johnson & Johnson single doses will affect distribution rates.

“Every one dose of Johnson is equivalent to two doses of something else,” Lorinser said. “Five hundred doses of Johnson that we’ll get this week will equate to 1,000 of Moderna, and that’s what we were getting.”

The MCHD said in a Wednesday Facebook post that it will issue an announcement soon regarding people in the age 50-and-over age group looking to pre-register for vaccines.

MDHHS follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for prioritization of distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccines. CDC recommendations are based on input from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the federal advisory committee made up of medical and public health experts who develop recommendations on the use of vaccines in the United States.

LMAS gives vaccine update

Individuals age 50 and older with underlying medical conditions who live in Luce, Mackinac, Alger and Schoolcraft counties can now be added to wait lists as Mackinac Straits Hospital, Helen Newberry Joy Hospital, Munising Memorial Hospital and Schoolcraft Memorial Hospital have reached the majority of those 65 and over and those in the priority groups in 1B. Family members and guardians who care for children with special medical needs are able to receive COVID-19 vaccines as well.

The facilities also are ready to take those who are over the age of 60 regardless of their medical status.

The Luce-Mackinac-Alger-Schoolcraft District Health Department said people who wish to be placed on a wait list or sign up for an appointment should visit LMASDHD.org. Individuals can use the button on the website labeled “50+ with medical conditions” or the button labeled “60+” to get on a wait list for Alger, Luce and Mackinac counties.

For Schoolcraft Memorial Hospital, people can call 906-341-3775 or use the appointment scheduler at signup.com/go/hvsOZXi. Anyone needing assistance scheduling or getting on a wait list in any of the four counties can call between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Numbers are: Alger, 906-387-2297; Luce, 906-293-5107; and Mackinac, 906-643-1100. People can also reach LMAS at its Facebook page via Personal Messenger at Facebook.com/LMASDHD.

“We are so grateful for the response from area residents in wanting to get the COVID vaccine,” said Kerry Ott, LMAS public information officer, in a news release. “This is such an important step in protecting individuals from serious COVID illness or death. We do not yet have a clear picture of whether those vaccinated can spread COVID-19 to others, so even when you are fully vaccinated, you need to continue to properly wear a cloth face covering fully covering your mouth and nose, stay home when you don’t feel well, get tested, maintain distance, wash your hands and limit your gatherings to no more than 15 people from three households.”

Ott said that if LMAS contacts people and instructs them to isolate or quarantine, they are to follow those instructions.

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