General Motors intended to let its global workforce know by late December about its plan for when a COVID-19 vaccine would be available and how GM would administer it to those who wanted it.
Now, nearly three months later, there are no vaccines available to GM and so no firm plan yet.
Similarly, across town, Ford Motor Co. in November bought 12 ultra-cold freezers globally to store vaccines. The freezers remain largely empty and any plan to administer the shots is on ice.
Only Stellantis, formerly called Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, recently secured 1,200 shots through Illinois’ Boone County Health Department and administered them to about a third of its workforce at its Belvidere Assembly plant. But it, too, hasn’t nailed down a plan to administer the shots beyond that.
“We have no control. Like everyone else, it’s the state and local governments that are determining when and how many,” said Jodi Tinson, Stellantis spokeswoman. “We’re working with Boone County on getting a second dose for the 1,200 people who got the first shot. When they’ll have more for the rest of the plant, that’s for them to determine. We wait.”
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Despite their holding pattern, the carmakers are each aggressively reaching out to government leaders almost daily to push for an agenda on vaccine readiness and any information on the government’s distribution process.
The companies also keep working on a variety of options for administering the vaccines to employees who want it when the medicine does become available. Think of it like company-sponsored flu shots.
But with these COVID-19 shots in such short supply, the timeline for when they’ll arrive continues to stretch further out into the year. The recent bout of winter storms ravaging much of the country isn’t helping. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it expects the winter storms to cause widespread delays in vaccine shipments over the next few days.
“Even President Biden had to back away from saying that anyone could get a vaccine by spring. Now he’s saying summer,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell told the Free Press. “So the autos are caught, like everybody else. There is a supply issue.”
Dingell, D-Dearborn, works closely with the Detroit carmakers. She said she talks to the leaders at each company regularly, sometimes daily, about a variety of topics, the vaccine distribution being a top concern.
Besides the squeeze on the supply, Dingell is critical of Michigan’s vaccine distribution plan, saying many of elderly people are not getting them yet either.
“We’re working with everyone to get vaccines in the arms of people as fast as we can,” Dingell said.
The UAW is helping. UAW leaders and the Detroit Three speak regularly to work on a plan to get the vaccine to all 150,000 union members at the three carmakers. But they must wait on various states, including Michigan, to offer more details on vaccine availability.
“The UAW continues to work with the Biden administration, the Detroit Three and all of our employers on vaccine distribution plans,” said Brian Rothenberg, UAW spokesman. “Those plans will be implemented when the vaccine is available, how much is available at a given time and other distribution variables by state. In some instances, like Stellantis/FCA Belvidere, they have already been implemented.”
GM encouraging vaccination
For the Detroit Three, all options are on the table in terms of how to administer the vaccines once they are available.
GM is working with public health officials on availability and priority group determinations in each state, said spokesman David Caldwell.
“Regional teams are working to partner with health systems, medical suppliers and national pharmacies to administer the vaccine to employees,” Caldwell said. “GM continues to update employees as we get more information, and we’re encouraging all employees to get vaccinated.”
Caldwell said GM is preparing to administer vaccines at many of its sites. For example, if health officials designate a GM site to receive a vaccine, GM will notify employees then and set up scheduling right away. The shot would be free to employees, Caldwell said.
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GM is also working on ways to help employees determine when a vaccine may become available at a pharmacy or local health care provider, so that an employee can opt to get the vaccine there, Caldwell said. GM partners with various pharmacies, including CVS.
“We continue to share info from our Medical Director Dr. Jeffrey Hess on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, including a video series for employees,” Caldwell said. “We’ve posted and continually updated an extensive COVID online Q&A, among other resources.”
Lined them up, roll ’em up
Stellantis workers who make the Jeep Cherokee at Belvidere Assembly in Illinois have been some of the nation’s first autoworkers to receive the vaccine.
Illinois, as well as Michigan, has designated manufacturing as essential. But unlike Michigan, Illinois was ready to move into that phase of the vaccine distribution plan. That’s why nearly a third of the 3,792 workers at Belvidere Assembly got the shots.
“Boone County let us know, as the state moved into that phase, that they had some allocation for us and could begin administering the vaccine to those employees who are interested,” Tinson said.
A clinic near the plant run by SwedishAmerican Health System was the ideal location to offer the vaccinations, Tinson said.
“We lined up our employees to come in and roll up their sleeves,” Tinson said, adding the shot was free to workers.
The county gave Stellantis 1,200 vaccines in a pilot program that ran Feb. 2-4.
As for when the rest of the company, including those workers in Michigan, will get it, Stellantis continues to talk to government leaders and remains open to a number of options for administering the shots.
“We’ve been talking to them for a long time. This is part of the process and we have open lines of communication with all of them,” Tinson said. “We’re looking at every possibility to administer the vaccine. We’re looking at all distribution options. It could be working with our pharmacy partner CVS … or a drive-through if we can do it, those are all options we’re looking at.”
Emphasis on essential
Ford had no new development for its plans to help workers get vaccinated, beyond ordering a dozen ultra-cold freezers to store the vaccines that require it.
The vaccine developed by Pfizer and the German firm BioNTech, which promises a 95% immunity based on clinical studies, must be stored at about minus-70 degrees Celsius.
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The Dearborn, Michigan, carmaker is working with government leaders across the globe to secure the vaccines, Ford spokeswoman Cassandra Hayes said.
“We plan to make vaccines available to our employees on a voluntary basis,” Hayes said. “Our initial emphasis is on essential workers at our manufacturing plants, warehouses, workplace-dependent employees and employees who are required to travel.”
Ford’s administration of the vaccines will vary by location, she said.
Staff writer Phoebe Wall Howard contributed to this report.