Critics have said Michigan should not have opened access to coronavirus vaccines to people ages 65 and older – and others in Phase 1-B – until the approximately 800,000 people – including frontline workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities – had gotten their doses.
And even though initiating Phase 1-B, which makes eligibile residents 65 and older along with some frontline workers such as child care and K-12 staff, first responders and those who live in congregate facilities like homeless shelters, prisons and jails, adds some 700,000 people to the line, the state’s chief medical officer said Thursday that was the plan all along.
Speaking to a group participating in an administrative update about the coronavirus response and the vaccine plan via Microsoft Teams on Thursday, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun pointed out the state was simply sticking to its plan.
“The CDC and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has always acknowledged that the phases would overlap and move in parallel,” Khaldun said. “That means there would be some people in Phase 1-A who potentially would not have received a vaccine before Phase 1-B started.
“That has always been part of the plan,” she added. “It’s important to also note there are still people in 1-A who can get a vaccine through the various channels we have available throughout the state.”
The goal, Khaldun pointed out, is to vaccinate “70% of Michiganders over the age of 16 as quickly as possible.” She said the state’s plan, including the overlapping of phases, follows CDC guidelines.
Following that guidance, she said, the state began vaccinating the healthcare workforce and long-term care facility residents and staff. On Monday, Khaldun approved the beginning of the vaccination process for Phase 1-B because “we know many of our healthcare workforce are already vaccinated, many fully, with their second dose.”
Trish Foster, chief operating officer for the state of Michigan, said the plan originally called for 50,000 vaccinations a day, but that was when “we thought we were getting 300,000 vaccines” per week. When the state found out it was only getting 60,000, “we actually had to scale back our plan,” Foster said.
“Although we have ramped up slowly, we have definitely ramped up,” Foster said Thursday. “We set a goal of having all doses utilized in seven days. All of our providers have worked diligently to do that.”
Foster called it a “supply based issue,” pointing out supply and demand “play a critical role in planning. She said Whitmer “led the charge” in requesting that vaccines held back by the government be released. The incoming Biden administration said they would do that when they took office. In fact, President-Elect Joe Biden announced a $1.9 trillion stimulus package Thursday night that includes money to do just that.
Shortly thereafter, the Trump administration agreed to do the same thing. Late Wedesday, the federal government told state officials it will release an additional 60,000 doses. Those doses will be taken from the long-term care “bank” set aside for long-term care residents and staff, meaning the state will have more than 122,000 doses available next week.
It’s that long-term care bank that has contributed, according to Foster, to the criticism that the state is rolling the vaccines out too slowly. Those vaccines go straight to the bank, she explained, and aren’t counted among the state’s official doses delivered.
“If you look at the (state covid) dashboard, it indicates, ‘Oh my gosh, the state of Michigan has 245,100 vaccines that they’re distributing and they’re not doing it that quickly,” Foster said. “It’s not true. That gets taken off the top, it never comes into us directly at all to push out to providers, and the federal government is working with Walgreen’s and CVS on that.”
More than 2.5 million Michiganders are currently estimated to be eligible for the vaccine. As of Thursday, 831,150 vaccine doses had been shipped to Michigan. Of those, 368,844, or about 44%, have been injected into people.
Khaldun said the state is “making great strides,” and that, as of Thursday, “all vaccines available to Michiganders are either administered or scheduled to be administered.”
She also knows it hasn’t been perfect. The important point to make, she said, is there’s “not nearly enough vaccine” available in the state for everyone who is eligible to receive one. It’s a problem she said they anticipated “before we moved forward with Phase 1-B.”
“This means people will have to wait and make an appointment, it means there will not be enough appointments for everyone, and we’ve asked our partners who are administering the vaccines to make appointments for the vaccines they know they are getting, recognizing there may not be enough vaccine and some appointments may need to be cancelled.
“This is not what anyone wants; it’s just because we don’t have enough vaccine available,” Khaldun said. “We’re asking for everyone’s patience as we move to get more vaccine in the state.”
The Michigan COVID vaccine dashboard, as well as information about where residents can go to make appointments, can be found at the state’s COVID-19 website, www.michigan.gov/covidvaccine.
“I’m really excited about the progress we’ve made,” Khaldun said. “These vaccines are the way we’re going to end this pandemic in Michigan. We just ask for patience, and also making sure everyone knows even if you do get fully vaccinated, you’re still going to need to wear your mask, wash your hands and socially distance until we get a large portion of the community vaccinated.”