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The COVID-19 vaccine is using new technology that has never been used before in traditional vaccines. Here’s how an mRNA vaccine works.

USA TODAY

State health officials laid out the plan Friday for prioritizing who among Michigan’s 10 million people will get priority for novel coronavirus vaccines, knowing that in the first few weeks and months, supply will be limited.

Michigan is expected to receive 84,825 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine created by Pfizer and its German-based partner BioNTech as soon as it clears the final regulatory hurdle. . 

It got closer to that step Friday night, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted Pfizer’s vaccine emergency use authorization. It will now have to be recommended by an advisory committee within the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before it can be distributed and injected into the arms of Americans.

“This is great news for our families, front-line workers, small businesses, and economy,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in a statement issued Friday night. “In Michigan, a state built on hard work and innovation, a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine will be manufactured by Michigan workers at a Michigan business.”

Many of the first 6.4 million doses Pfizer will distribute across the U.S.will come from the company’s Kalamazoo manufacturing plant and its Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, distribution center.  

“Hard working scientists, both in government and the private sector, deserve our deepest appreciation for this momentous and unprecedented achievement, as do the thousands of vaccine trial participants,”  said U.S. Senator Gary Peters, D-Michigan in a statement issued after the FDA granted emergency use of the vaccine. 

“While today’s development is a bright light after a difficult year, we are still months away from vaccines being widely available to all Americans, and this is only one component of getting the pandemic under control. Even as our friends and families begin to be vaccinated, we must continue to use masks, social distancing, contact tracing, and other measures for the foreseeable future in order to stop the spread and save lives.”

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said the first shipments of Pfizer’s vaccine will be delivered to 56 hospitals and 16 public health departments across the state, and she expects new shipments of the vaccine every week after that.

The goal is to vaccinate at least 70% of the state’s adult population — 5.4 million people — within a year, said Khaldun, first using the Pfizer vaccine once it gets approval, and then adding additional vaccines that also pass federal regulatory standards as they come to market. 

More: Michigan slated to get 84,825 doses of Pfizer vaccine ‘within hours’ of FDA approval

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If biotech company Moderna also is granted emergency use authorization next week for its COVID-19 vaccine, Michigan could receive 173,600 doses within its first shipment. 

The welcome news comes as the pandemic rages across the United States and in Michigan. Since March, state health officials have confirmed 426,294 cases of the virus and 10,456 deaths. 

The strategy is to immunize first the people who keep the state’s crucial health care infrastructure running, which would include workers in hospitals, critical care units, and emergency medical services, and then expand.

But there are 600,000 health care workers in the state, according to the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, so even if they get top priority for vaccination, there still must be some who are pushed to the front of the line.

Khaldun laid out the following details about how it’ll work: 

PHASE 1A of Michigan’s COVID-19 vaccination plan

Includes people working in health care settings who have direct exposure to patients or infectious materials and people who live in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes and assisted living centers. 

Priority 1: Within that group, getting vaccinated first in this phase would be:

  • Emergency medical service providers, including medical first responders
  • People who work on general medical floors 
  • Emergency department workers
  • Intensive care unit employees

Priority 2: Aims to stop COVID-19 outbreaks within long-term care facilities, and includes workers who have direct contact with large number of vulnerable residents, including staff who come in and out of the buildings and those who live in those settings would fall into this phase and would get vaccinated in two groups in the following order.

  • Group A: Staff at skilled nursing facilities, psychiatric hospitals, homes for the aged, adult foster care centers, assisted living facilities, home health care workers caring for high-risk clients with large patient loads. 
  • Group B: Residents of skilled nursing facilities, psychiatric hospital patients, and people who live in homes for the aged, adult foster care centers and assisted living facilities.

Priority 3: This targets three groups who are needed to keep necessary health care infrastructure functioning, and includes: 

  • Group A: Workers with direct patient contact who conduct high-risk procedures, such as those in dentistry and those who perform endoscopies.
  • Group B: Other workers who have direct patient contact, including those who work in outpatient, urgent care, ambulatory care and home health care settings. 
  • Group C: Workers who have indirect patient contact with specialized skills critical to health care system functioning, such as people who work in hospitals and public health laboratories and pharmacies.

PHASE 1B of Michigan’s COVID-19 vaccination plan

In this phase, vaccination would include essential workers in some other crucial industries with unique skill sets. Specifically, it would be rolled out by vaccinating the following people:

  • K-12 school and child care staff with direct contact with children.
  • Workers in 16 sectors of the Critical Infrastructure Protection Program, including: chemical, communications, dams, emergency services, financial services, government facilities, information technology, transportation systems, energy, food and agriculture, health care and public health, nuclear reactors, materials and waste, and water and wastewater systems.
  • Staff in homeless shelters; corrections facilities, including prisons, jails, juvenile justice facilities; congregate child care institutions, and adult and child protective services.
  • Workers with unique skill sets not covered above, such as non-hospital laboratories and mortuary services.

PHASE 1C of Michigan’s COVID-19 vaccination plan:

In this phase, people who are at high risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 would be vaccinated. 

  • Group A: Individuals age 65 years and older
  • Group B: People over age 18 with the following health conditions: COPD, hypertension, chronic kidney disease, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and other conditions that put them at high risk of a bad outcome if they are sickened with COVID-19.

PHASE 2 of Michigan’s COVID-19 vaccination plan

This would begin a mass vaccination campaign for all adults, with the exception of pregnant women, who are not advised to get the vaccine. For now, the recommendation is to vaccinate only people ages 18 and older, but that could change, Khaldun said, to include teens ages 16-18. 

“For all of these phases, there will be overlap when one is not yet completed, and another one begins,” Khaldun said. The timing between the phases depends on availability of vaccine, when and how much vaccine is allocated to Michigan, and the capacity to administer the vaccine to these various populations that are described.

“It is our hope that we will be able to start offering the vaccine to the general public by late spring of 2021.”

However, how quickly the state can work through this plan will depend on how many doses of the vaccines it can get, and how fast. 

“The end of the pandemic is near,” said Khaldun. “And we are working diligently with partners across the state to distribute the COVID vaccines, when they do become available.”

Contact Kristen Shamus: kshamus@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus.

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