Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday the state is moving quickly to get COVID-19 vaccine doses to primary care doctors to extend vaccinations to young people ages 12-15 and also those adults who haven't yet been vaccinated.
"Vaccinations are increasing, but tragically we have lost over 18,000 Michiganders to the virus," Whitmer said in a Zoom press conference.
On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTecch shots for adolescents ages 12-15. A federal advisory committee will meet today as part of the two-step approval process.
Vaccinations for those 12-15 could begin as early as Thursday.
Whitmer said expansion of COVID-19 vaccinations to younger groups will help the state's overall vaccination efforts and move closer to the state's "back to normal" reopening goals.
So far, 55.3 percent of those ages 16 or older or 4.5 million have received a first vaccine dose, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. As a result, in-person work for all sectors of business can resume May 24.
Two weeks after first dose vaccinations reach 60 percent, the state will increase indoor capacity at sports stadiums to 25 percent; indoor capacity at conference centers/banquet halls/funeral homes to 25 percent; increase capacity at exercise facilities and gyms to 50 percent; and lift curfew on restaurants and bars.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive, said all COVID-19 metrics have been positive and showing decreasing numbers.
While Michigan is still the nation's No. 1 hotspot for COVID-19 cases, Khaldun said virus cases are down to 253 per million, declining by one-third from 439.3 cases per million on April 29.
After Michigan, Colorado, Minnesota and Maine are recording the highest number of cases, according to the New York Times COVID-19 tracker. Nationally, cases are down 29 percent, with a 45 percent decline in Michigan.
"We have 11.8 percent hospital beds used for COVID," Khaldun said. "We are seeing hospitalizations decline and as these metrics trend down, vaccinated people trends up."
Khaldun said the CDC authorization for vaccinating adolescents 12-15 is an important milestone.
"I have two kids in that age group," Khaldun said. "It means less missed school, birthday parties and sleepovers, and a much lower risk of getting ill."
Khaldun said primary care doctors can register as COVID-19 vaccinators and receive vaccine shipments.
"We are still focusing on mobile units to bring vaccines to where people are," she said."We are in a new phase of fighting this virus, but it is still not over. We still have the threat of easily transmitted variants. Remember, outdoors is safer than indoors, and we still recommend getting tested if get symptoms."
Dr. Srikar Reddy, president-elect of the Michigan Academy of Family Physicians who practices in South Lyon and is associated with Ascension Michigan, said progress with vaccinations is going well.
"It is time to shift our focus to individuals who are still hesitant," Reddy said. "Getting vaccinated is our civic duty. Hospitalizations and deaths are on the decline, but positive cases are still happening."
Reddy said family physicians are trusted part of the health care delivery system and parents should consider making appointments for their adolescent children ages 12-15 and themselves if they are not vaccinated.
"Despite teens not a high-risk population, getting them vaccinated will reduce (community spread) and prevent variants" from getting a foothold, Reddy said.
Last December, Reddy's 13-year-old son contracted a mild case of COVID-19.
"We need to build confidence for children. We get them vaccinated and we can end the pandemic sooner," he said. "We see the light at the end of the tunnel. ... I recommend people do not forget to get other vaccinations (like) whooping cough, pneumonia and measles."