ANN ARBOR – Michigan Medicine plans to start administering the COVID-19 vaccine to patients age 65 or older as it moves into its new priority phase next week.
Starting Monday, the healthcare system will begin to send out invitations to its patients in this age range under the care of a Michigan Medicine primary care provider to schedule appointments through the MyUofMHealth portal or through mail. Those who have had a visit with any Michigan Medicine provider in the past two years are also eligible to receive the vaccine.
Vaccine sites at Michigan Medicine are closed to the public and require an appointment. As the healthcare system moves through the vaccine distribution program, patients will receive an invitation automatically. No action is needed to request an appointment.
Each week, available appointments will depend on supply, but the heath system hopes to offer all patients in this group planning to get the vaccine to receive it in the next two to three months.
“Michigan Medicine will move forward into this phase in partnership with the state, local health departments, and other health systems in our region to work towards vaccinating our community as quickly as possible,” Sandro Cinti, M.D., one of the leaders of Michigan Medicine’s vaccine distribution effort and professor of infectious diseases in the U-M Medical School said in a statement.
“We would not have been successful in nearly completing Phase 1A without the collaborative partnership with all of these groups including the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.”
More than 200,000 patients fall into the 65 and older category across the state of Michigan. Invites to schedule the first dose of the vaccine will be sent out in batches, depending on availability.
So far, Michigan Medicine has received 21,700 doses of the Pfizer Inc./BioNTech vaccine and has vaccinated 13,863 Phase 1A frontline individuals, including physicians, medical employees and healthcare students under state and federal guidelines.
In the next few days, thousands of appointments are already scheduled -- some for second doses -- as Michigan Medicine works to use up as much of its current vaccine supply as possible. It estimates that it administers more than 90 percent of its supply each week.
More shipments are expected next week, but the exact number of incoming vaccines is unknown. Michigan Medicine hopes to boost its efforts to administer 3,400 vaccinations daily at several locations, depending on supply.
Michigan Stadium recently opened as a vaccination site. Michigan Medicine is administering vaccines seven days a week with plans to add locations throughout campus.
“This is a major milestone in our effort to fight the COVID-19 virus,” Cinti said in a statement. “We are delighted we can offer this lifesaving vaccine to vulnerable patients. Our best tactic to combat this pandemic is getting this safe, effective vaccine to as many people as soon as we can. In so doing, we are also supporting vaccination efforts for communities across the state.”
Reaching communities of color is a top priority for Michigan Medicine, which has launched a robust community outreach effort, including a free virtual town hall on Jan. 16 titled “COVID-19 and the African American Community.”
“It is crucial that we engage everyone in open conversation about the safety and efficacy of this vaccine, but especially to those communities of color that have long-standing concerns and mistrust because of past vaccination experiences,” Tony Denton, senior vice-president and chief operating officer for University of Michigan Health System, who is leading the community outreach and education effort said in a statement.
“We acknowledge that these concerns exist and want to remove any barriers and provide factual information to ensure equitable and ethical delivery of health care across all populations. We plan to invite and engage communities of color in open discussion to address fears, reviewing the science of clinical trials and building trust for individuals and families to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine. This is one of the most important public health efforts of our lifetimes. We aim to make a true difference in addressing equitable access.”
The transition to vaccinate individuals age 65 or older falls under Phase 1B of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan. On Wednesday, state officials authorized the distribution of vaccines to the priority group starting Monday.
Michigan Medicine is responsible for inoculating the entire University of Michigan community across its three campuses in Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint.