Gov. Gretchen Whitmer today named a commission that will work to raise awareness on the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and promote the need for people to get vaccinated.
The bipartisan Protect Michigan Commission’s long list of members includes a wide range of business, labor, health care, tribal and public sector representatives, as well as Republican and Democratic legislators. Among the group’s eight co-chairs are Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, Blake Griffin of the Detroit Pistons, Small Business Association of Michigan President Brian Calley, and Spectrum Health President and CEO Tina Freese Decker.
The members the governor appointed to the Protect Michigan Commission “represent a diverse array of industries, professions and backgrounds,” Whitmer said today during a media briefing.
“This group of leaders is uniquely qualified to help us ensure that every Michigander who wants a vaccine, who’s eligible for a vaccine, can get a vaccine,” she said. “The bipartisan members of this group are going to play a vital role in helping reinforce the importance that everyone gets vaccinated.”
Michigan has received $90 million through the federal COVID-19 relief that Congress enacted late last month. The state will use the federal funding “to ramp up vaccine distribution in Michigan and bring us closer to our goal of 50,000 shots in arms per day,” as well as to support administration costs for local health departments statewide, Whitmer said.
Two-thirds of the vaccines the state now receives from the federal government are administered or scheduled for vaccinations soon, up from 44 percent two weeks ago, she said.
Even with the rising rate, the primary issue for care providers administering vaccines has been securing enough doses to meet demand.
“We don’t yet have the kind of supply that we need,” Whitmer said. “We do have a plan for 50,000 shots in arms per day once we have the vaccines that we need. Eligible Michiganders who want a vaccine will get a vaccine. This process though is like a locomotive. It’s cumbersome and bumpy and slow at the beginning, but we will be picking up steam and things will be going faster.”
In Grand Rapids, Spectrum Health, Mercy Health and the Kent County Health Department today opened a mass vaccine clinic downtown at DeVos Place Convention Center. The goal there is to eventually do 20,000 vaccines a day.
The West Michigan Vaccine Clinic at DeVos Place administered 500 vaccinations Monday afternoon and the partners expect to do 8,500 this week.
The state’s goal is to eventually have 70 percent of Michigan’s population vaccinated, a mark that could take months to achieve.
As the Protect Michigan Commission ramps up to promote vaccinations, surveys have repeatedly shown that about a quarter or more of people will not get vaccinated.
One of the latest surveys came out just last week from Pipslay Research. Of the more than 30,300 people polled nationwide, more than four in 10 said they were “completely convinced” they would get a COVID-19 vaccine and 35 percent were “somewhat convinced.” Nearly one quarter of respondents were “not convinced at all” about getting a vaccine.
The Kaiser Family Foundation’s latest COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor report showed that nearly 60 percent of Americans 65 and older do not know enough about when and where to get vaccinated. One in five believes the federal government is doing a good job on vaccine distribution, one-third rate it as fair, and 31 percent told Kaiser that vaccine distribution is going poorly.
Minorities are more likely to question whether vaccines are getting distributed fairly. Two-thirds of the more than 1,500 people polled two weeks ago by the Kaiser Family Foundation say they are getting distributed fairly, while a little more than half of Black respondents said “they lack confidence that the needs of Black people are being taken into account.” More than four in 10 Hispanic adults told Kaiser they lacked confidence “that the needs of Hispanic people are being taken into account.”
Michigan aims to ramp up vaccinations as a new variant of the coronavirus has come into the state. Michigan now has at least 13 confirmed cases of the new variant, known as B117, in Washtenaw County and four in Wayne County, Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said.
“There are likely more cases that we have not yet identified and there is possibly a spread of the variant that is happening right now,” Khaldun said.
The new variant is spread more easily and “that means for any given case, it will likely infect more people and lead to more spread, and this means possibly more cases, more hospitalizations and deaths,” she said. “The good news, though, is this new variant does not yet appear to cause more severe disease, our current tests can identify it, our vaccines appear to work against it. But this new, more-easily transmitted virus is still very concerning.
“We do not want to have to go backwards to slow the great progress we’ve already made. We want to continue to reopen our economy and get back to a sense of normalcy. This means we have to all think a bit differently and more aggressively about preventing the spread.”
While cases per million, positive tests and hospitalizations remain well below their November peaks when Whitmer re-imposed restrictions amid a surge, she cited the new virus variant as one reason she’s reluctant right now to further ease state restrictions. The new variant “is now here in Michigan and it poses a very real threat,” Whitmer said.
“Our job is to curtail the spread of this new variant in Michigan. We have to not let our guard down,” she said. “We’ve re-engaged restaurants to a certain extent. That will increase the amount of people out and about and it’s important that we stay very focused on where the numbers are before we take additional steps.
“Whether it’s contact sports or bumping up that number for in-person dining, these are actions that will increase contacts and could create spread and that’s why we have to be really smart and incremental as we move forward.”
On Feb. 1, restaurants and bars in the state can resume indoor service at 25 percent capacity while observing a 10 p.m. curfew.
As of today, Michigan has recorded 551,080 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 14,326 deaths. That’s an increase of 3,011 confirmed cases and 35 deaths from Saturday.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with information from the West Michigan Vaccine Clinic in Grand Rapids.