Some Michigan localities have opted to put lawmakers at the front of the coronavirus vaccination line despite some of the state’s higher risk citizens still waiting to gain access.
“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,” said Oakland County spokesman Bill Mullan, one of the counties offering lawmakers priority.
Michigan’s Oakland and Macomb counties, as well as the city of Detroit, are jurisdictions fast-tracking lawmakers in some way. Officials in Oakland County have confirmed prioritizing lawmakers, saying they were part of the “vital public interest during the pandemic.”
State Rep. John Reilly, who represents part of Oakland County, doesn’t agree with the decision to prioritize lawmakers. The 63-year-old Reilly is just outside of the higher priority status but says he is healthy and declined to be vaccinated ahead of those who need it more.
“Why would the county be doing such a thing?” Reilly asked at a House Oversight Committee hearing last week.
John Roach, a spokesman for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s office, said government employees are often in contact with the public and are eligible for the vaccine.
“City, state, and federal employees who live or work in Detroit and whose jobs result in frequent contact with the public, including state legislators whose duties entail extensive public interaction, are eligible to schedule appointments,” Roach said.
Michigan’s state government doesn’t completely control the distribution of the vaccine, giving counties and local governments leeway to distribute the medicine in their areas.
But state Rep. Steve Johnson believes that might have to change.
“I think that’s got to be addressed at some point,” Johnson said. “I think there should be strings attached.”
While the city of Detroit and some surrounding counties have made the decision to prioritize lawmakers, the practice hasn’t spread across the state. Kent County, home to Michigan’s second-largest city, Grand Rapids, has not made a similar decision to their Detroit area counterparts.
“No elected official has been offered a vaccine by the Kent County Health Department, based solely on the fact that they are an elected official,” Kent County spokesman Steve Kelso said.
Kent County has also hired an ethicist to help advise the county’s vaccine rollout program, Kelso said, which the county hopes will help make the distribution of the vaccine equitable.
Elizabeth Hertel, who just took over the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, said the state encourages municipalities to follow a priority list that puts seniors and healthcare workers at the front of the line.
“Our hope is that they’re not doing whatever they want,” Hertel told state lawmakers last Thursday.
Lynn Sutfin, a state health spokeswoman, confirmed the state encourages municipalities to follow the guidelines but, “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.”
Michigan has been a controversial state throughout the pandemic, with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer imposing some of the strictest lockdowns in the country while cutting Michigan’s GOP controlled legislature out of the process.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to the Washington Examiner’s request for comment on the state’s vaccine distribution plan.