WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. – It’s no secret that eligible Michigan residents -- specifically seniors -- have been struggling to receive their coronavirus vaccinations in Metro Detroit amid high vaccine demand, limited supply and scheduling confusion.
With frontline workers and residents 65 and older eligible to get vaccinated already, Michigan’s Oakland County is expanding eligibility criteria to include politicians -- but not every politician agrees with the move.
“I would say this is wrong,” said Michigan Rep. John Reilly. “I don’t think this is the proper thing to do with government officials. We shouldn’t be cutting to the front of the line. This is not the right thing; this does make me angry.”
Rep. Reilly, from Orion Township, is in good health at age 63, making him ineligible to receive a COVID vaccination -- something he says he is fine with. But last week, he received a phone call from the county saying he’d shot to the front of the vaccine line.
The state of Michigan is currently in vaccination phase 1-B, which began on Jan. 11. In this phase, those eligible to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccination include frontline health care professionals, other frontline workers in critical infrastructure and seniors over 65 years old.
After Reilly received the phone call that he was now eligible, he started calling around to assisted living centers.
“They said 80 percent of their people are over 75 and they have not been able to get the vaccine,” Reilly said. “They’ve been working at this for a while and not getting any solid dates -- possibly by the end of February -- and, wow, they’re offering me the vaccine.”
For Oakland County spokesman William Mullan, the decision to prioritize politicians in the vaccination process comes down to interpreting rules.
“Oakland County has offered to administer the COVID vaccine to the county’s state representatives, seniors and commissioners because continuity of government is a vital public interest during the pandemic,” Mullan’s statement reads.
“Our lawmakers at the state and county level need to remain healthy so they can convene and vote on measures that support COVID response, vaccinations and other key issues,” the statement continued. “Health administration sets the priorities for pandemic response and vaccinations. They informed the county executive about the decision to offer legislators the COVID vaccine and he supports the rationale.”
Still, Reilly says that politicians “should not be going to the front of the line.” The state representative tells Local 4 that he has not received his vaccine, and won’t be getting one until the next phase opens and makes him eligible.
Local 4 reached out the the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), and they said that the counties can prioritize their distribution to groups they think are the most in need.
“The state is working hand-in-hand with health care systems and local health departments to get Michiganders vaccinated with the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as possible. We also know that our local health departments are well-suited to reach minority and vulnerable populations, by going into neighborhoods and partnering with community-based organizations on vaccination efforts. We are grateful for the work and continued partnership of our health care systems as we strive to reach our goal of vaccinating 70% of Michiganders as quickly as possible, with a focus on equity as well. We have only praise for both and appreciate their willingness to serve the communities in which they operate.
MDHHS has provided prioritization guidance to all vaccine providers and has encouraged providers to prioritize individuals age 65 and older as this age group accounts for 80% of COVID deaths. Local health departments have the option to prioritize the groups within the guidance they feel are most at risk and at highest need of vaccination. No shot in the arm is ever wasted as getting this vaccine is our way out of the pandemic and returning to some sense of normalcy.”Bob Wheaton, MDHHS