Michigan defends COVID vaccine rollout, says it’s not as bad as data suggest

A sign on a CVS pharmacy in Lake Orion on Jan. 10 warned customers it had no doses of the coronavirus vaccine (Bridge staff photo)

A top Michigan public health official defended the state’s vaccination rollout on Wednesday and said many more vaccines have been administered than reported.


State epidemiologist Sarah Lyon-Callo told Bridge Michigan that the state is doing far better administering the vaccine and blamed reports to the contrary on its data system.

Michigan ranks 33th among all states in terms of vaccinations per 100,000 people, according to the latest nationwide look at data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Michigan had ranked 39th on Tuesday, and federal officials have warned that states that are slow to administer vaccines may not get as many doses when the government releases doses from its reserves.

“If you are not using vaccines that you have the right to, then we should be rebalancing to states that are using that vaccine,” Alex Azar, the secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services, said at a news conference this week.

As of Wednesday, records show 332,000 people have gotten the first dose of the vaccine in Michigan. 


The state has received over 831,000 doses from the two vaccine manufacturers, creating the impression that hundreds of thousands of doses are sitting in freezers unused.

But Lyon-Callo blamed a reporting lag, saying that while local health departments must report administered doses within 24 hours, pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens have three days to report vaccines given at long-term care facilities.

On Jan. 8, for instance, Michigan reported that 17,776 had received the vaccine on Jan. 6. Five days later, the tally for that day had grown to 24,336 because of the lag, Lyon-Callo said.

“We do not have a real-time dose tracker in the state of Michigan,” Lyon-Callo said.

She did not explain how other states, where CVS and Walgreens also administer vaccines and adhere to the same reporting rules, have avoided undercounts.

Her remarks came as residents statewide are confused and angry about the vaccination rollout

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said residents 65 and older this week could get the vaccine, but county health officials statewide have been bombarded with phone calls from residents desperate for a vaccine. Whitmer has continued to blame federal officials for the lack of vaccines.

Bridge reported this week that at least 15 health departments statewide aren’t taking appointments for anyone beyond frontline care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

The false promises have left many angry, state Rep. Graham Filler, R-DeWitt.

“They created an expectation when they said you could get the vaccine, but you can’t,” Filler said. “I’ve got so many elderly folks… who want to get the vaccine. And they probably can’t. But what we get is ‘it’s the feds’ fault.’ ”

Lyon-Callo said the state is aware of those concerns and is trying to make changes.

“We're working as rapidly as possible,” she said.

Since all states have pharmacies and are dealing with the same federal government, Lyon-Callo’s answers, and Whitmer’s continued complaints about the federal government strike Tony Daunt, executive director of the Michigan Freedom Fund, a conservative organization, as “laziness and finger-pointing.”

“They had plenty of time to put a plan together and they failed,” Daunt said. “We need a better plan. We need better execution.”

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Wed, 01/13/2021 - 8:06pm

Azar says states will not get allocations unless they administer the vaccine and we are below average. West Virginia should get more because they have administered 78% compared to MI at about 43%. You would think MI could have a goal of being better than West Virginia at this.

Rob Pollard
Thu, 01/14/2021 - 6:16am

I'm disappointed in the laziness and inaccuracy Bridge has shown on this issue of vaccine administration.

The beginning of this piece cites CDC stats, as if that organization has been a reliable source of information throughout this pandemic; a media company (The Atlantic) literally had to create The COVID Tracking Project w the help of volunteers to get the best national data on testing, hospitalization and positivty rates bc the CDC couldn't/wouldn't do it. This is a well-known failure by our federal government, but a Bridge (and Freep and DetNews, for that matter) reader would have no idea.

Now, you start a story quoting CDC stats (as if they are accurate) and then say "As of Wednesday, records show 332,000 people have gotten their first dose of the vaccine in Michigan." Well, what does the CDC show as I write this comment on Thursday early morning -- 296,000. It's missing 36,000 doses! Yet this easily checkable discrepancy isn't pointed out. The CDC will eventually catch up, but they always have unexplained delays.

Also, FWIW, it's not 332,000 first doses -- it's 332,000 *total* -- at least 30,000 of those doses are second vaccines. You should correct that.

If you got to other sites, like Bloomberg, which scrape data directly from state dashboards (instead of relying on the clunky CDC reporting system), it shows Michigan at the correct 3.33 vaccines per 100 residents -- about in the middle of the country, which is where Michigan has been all along during this distribution (and better than OH, PA, IL, and WI, who are all 2.90 to 3.04). Average is fine, not great not bad. But you wouldn't know this from Bridge's sloppy reporting. Please do better.

Jake K
Fri, 01/15/2021 - 11:52am

Rob...with no deference to you personally...who cares where MI ranks within the US or how effective our state is with providing the vaccine. It's nothing we can change. Whitmer is always quick to criticize and lay blame on others for ineffective management. I believe that posture will continue until Biden and the new Dem administration is in place. After a time period of blame being laden on the previous administration, maybe we'll witness the ability of the new admin to handle the unexpected...without spending trillions of dollars.

All Political
Thu, 01/14/2021 - 9:41am

Whitmer is holding back the vaccine while Trump is still President because of her almost pathological desire to make him look bad. As soon as Biden is in office, the vaccine availability will magically become much more widespread and much easier to get and she'll praise Biden for "having a plan".
I almost feel sorry for the Governor (almost); before the election, she could use covid as a political tool and weapon to make anybody opposing her look "uncaring" and "bad". But now that the election is over and her guy won, she now has to actually deal with it and it's a huge inconvenience for her. Apparently destroying the state's restaurant industry is next on her agenda.

Thu, 01/14/2021 - 10:51am

Same thing with the restaurants. Can't have the hospitality industry rebound while Trump is still in office. Wouldn't fit the political narrative.

Thu, 01/14/2021 - 12:14pm

I'm guessing you one of the people saying the virus was "magically" going to go away on Nov 4th as well, right?

Trump was just impeached for a second time for inciting an insurrection over a lie, he doesn't need the Governor of Michigan to make him look bad. If anything, vaccine availability will become more widespread after Biden is in office because Biden not only plans on bringing actual experts to the table, he plans on listening to them.

Thu, 01/14/2021 - 10:52am

The governor LOVES data. Until is shows that we're not getting our vaccine out. Then suddenly, "Data bad :("

Ron F
Thu, 01/14/2021 - 11:46am

There are about 1.75 million people in MI over 65, part of the 1B category, which also includes front-line workers. To vaccinate all (twice) means >4 million doses.

Diane J.
Thu, 01/14/2021 - 4:33pm

If you are over 65 with health problems the data and lack of vaccines is as bad as it looks espeially if you're in a rural area.

Thu, 01/14/2021 - 9:25pm

Other states have called on the national guard to assist with the process of getting the covid 19 vaccine to citizens. Why hasn’t Michigan done the same? The infrastructure needs to be increased quickly to get the shots into people. In order to begin the control the pandemic administering vaccines can’t drag on all of 2021 and beyond. The state government seems more focused on politics than getting the pandemic under control. It’s clear the state didn’t really prepare for rolling out the vaccine. How many years will people have to straggle into Meijers, CVS, etc in order for all who want the vaccine to receive it? Most retail pharmacies can barely fill prescription much less administer large numbers of vaccines. This is ridiculous. I’m tired of hearing the lame reporting lag to justify the unused vaccine. Do something Michigan and stop making excuses.

Sat, 01/16/2021 - 4:55am

The Governor's distribution of the vaccine has been terrible. She opened it up to 65 and older before they have even gotten all the most vulnerable vaccinated. My father in law is in a nursing home and they have still not been vaccinated yet there, yet healthy people are getting it first including politicians that are certainly not essential workers.

Sun, 01/17/2021 - 10:03am

So now the Michigan DHHS doesn't actually HAVE all the data they claim to have been relying on to make rules for Michigan's citizens and pandemic response advice to Gov. Whitmer? What's that you say, what data they do have isn't up to date, and is therefore misleading? ou can't really do science without data, folks. And nobody, whether scientist or politician, can make reasonable plans or appropriate decisions without data.

Why on earth would Governor Whitmer have announced that essential workers outside healthcare and citizens over 65 who are not in congregate care facilities can now get vaccinated if she didn't have the correct data? And why would the Governor announce this change publicly, well before the various vaccination administration sites had prepared a response for the foreseeable surge in demand? I think Whitmer's announcement owed much more to politics than to either data or good logistics planning.

It makes me wonder what other Whitmer pandemic decisions have been made without much data, and therefore driven more by politics than science? Her continuing refusal to specify what conditions, either local, regional or state-wide, would make it appropriate to re-open at least some restaurants is now even more suspicious.

Jake K
Tue, 01/19/2021 - 10:17am

1B and patiently waiting. My care provider UM Health Metro won't put me on a waiting list. I have to check their website site everyday to determine appt availability...of which there are none...ever. Ottawa County allowed me to apply to their list...without any indication of availability. A ready and willing pro-vaxxer...with no vaccine available.