Detroit expands coronavirus vaccine program but still lags behind suburbs

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Detroit has inoculated nearly 19,000 people and expects to receive 15,000 doses a week going forward. (Shutterstock photo)

Frontline workers in Detroit’s food and beverage industries, janitors, and security personnel are now eligible to receive the free COVID-19 vaccine at the TCF Center. 

However, the city still lags far behind suburban communities in the number of residents who have been vaccinated. Surrounding counties initially received more vaccines through the State, and have now administered more than four times as many vaccines.

Mayor Mike Duggan announced Tuesday that Detroit expects to receive 15,000 doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines each week moving forward. That’s up from the 6,000 doses a week reported in mid-January. The City has expanded its free vaccine program weekly in accordance with state guidelines, beginning with older adults to now include more frontline workers. 

This week’s expansion includes employees from restaurants, grocery stores and meatpacking companies. Frontline workers will be asked to present their pay stub or employee identification at TCF Center to prove they work in these eligible industries.

“Local 1 janitors, security officers and other essential workers have risked themselves working on the front lines since the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. These are the working people who are key to putting our city on the path to recovery, keeping downtown, our schools and our airport clean and safe,” said Brandice Mullen, SEIU Local 1’s Michigan Director. 

Mullen also said that the union organization is pleased that workers’ essential role in Detroit is being recognized and that the vaccine will “add an additional layer of protection for them, their families, and their communities against the virus.” 

Duggan said during Tuesday’s press conference that Detroit may “return to some normalcy” this summer due to the availability of the vaccine. Both versions of the vaccine have a shelf life of six months, and the City is not worried that doses won’t be used by their expiration date.

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So far, the City has received 39,350 doses and has administered 18,566 — that’s less than 5 percent of Detroit residents. Should someone miss their appointment at TCF, the City will contact a shortlist of registrants to get vaccinated ahead of their scheduled appointment to ensure no vaccine is wasted. Most of those doses are from Moderna, however, both Moderna and Pfizer require two shots over two weeks to fully vaccinate. More than 7,000 people who have received the vaccine are age 65 and older, while 2,800 K-12 teachers and school support staff have also been vaccinated, followed by 2,500 first responders.

BridgeDetroit asked the City for race and ethnicity data for those who have received the vaccine, but the data has not yet been released. 

Lynn Sutfin, public information officer of the State Department of Health and Human Services, told BridgeDetroit on Tuesday that the State is “working on racial and ethnicity data and hope to begin reporting it soon.” 

Both MDHHS and the City of Detroit have coronavirus vaccine dashboards that share public data on who has received the vaccine so far.

According to the State’s dashboard, counties surrounding Detroit have outpaced the city’s vaccination rate. Duggan attributed the difference to major hospitals in more suburban cities and said Detroiters don’t have consistent Internet access and are less likely to have a primary care doctor who can tell them about the vaccine.

The city is visiting senior centers and homeless shelters to reach Detroiters who don’t have reliable transportation.

Denise Fair, chief public health officer for the City of Detroit, said the Health Department will conduct vaccine outreach to 11 senior centers this week. She added at Tuesday’s press conference that the country is still in the middle of the pandemic, and said Detroiters should continue to wear a mask and socially distance.

Detroiters must book vaccination appointments by dialing 313-230-0505. Call center representatives will ask for the vaccination recipients for their name, address, date of birth, email, and about prior vaccination allergies. Detroiters can be vaccinated Monday through Friday at the TCF Center in downtown Detroit.

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