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Republicans question vaccine-only metric for reopening

LANSING (AP) — Republican legislative leaders on Friday welcomed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s metric-based approach to further relaxing coronavirus restrictions, but they questioned what will happen if Michigan’s COVID-19 vaccination rate falls below targets.

Their comments came a day after the governor announced four benchmarks that will trigger additional economic reopening — when 55%, 60%, 65% and 70% of people ages 16 and up get at least one shot. About half have done so to date. The state now needs at least two of every five unvaccinated residents to receive a dose.

“I think that we need a little more of a discussion on this metric of vaccines alone. I believe there’s a little more breadth that needs to be taken into consideration there, especially if we run into resistance and reluctance that causes us to plateau below the numbers that have been indicated,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, of Clarklake, said during a virtual event sponsored by the Detroit Regional Chamber. It included all four legislative leaders.

House Speaker Jason Wentworth, of Clare, applauded Whitmer for providing people “some sense of hope” and said both the vaccination rate and vaccine accessibility are important.

“If we were to plateau, what are we going to look at in terms of infection rates and other things to help us not go backward (and) continue to look ahead?” he said in the forum, noting that people who were infected and made antibodies to the virus may not want the vaccine. Shirkey, for instance, has not been vaccinated since battling COVID-19 late last year but strongly encouraged anyone who wants a shot to get one.

House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski, a Democrat from Washtenaw County’s Scio Township, said if vaccine hesitancy continues to be an issue, legislative leaders should work together to share facts so that residents are informed, potentially through public service announcements.

“As we look at that risk assessment, we need to remember that we’re not just putting ourselves at risk when we choose not to be vaccinated,” she said, urging people to think about “those who are around us.”

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, of Flint, expressed confidence that the 70% target will be met. A segment of the population is hesitant but open to being vaccinated, he said.

“I think if we can inspire, we can reach that number,” he said.

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