Millions eligible for Michigan COVID vaccine, but plans vary by location

vaccine

Michigan ranked 40th among states Friday in vaccines administered per 100,000 residents, according to data tracking by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Shutterstock)

Millions of Michiganders are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. But when it will be available for them, how they will schedule it, and where people will go to get it will depend largely on where they live.

 

“It’s not going to look the same from county to county, or health district to health district,” said Kerry Ott, spokesperson for the LMAS health district that covers four counties in the eastern Upper Peninsula. There, eligible residents (including those age 65 or older) can sign up for a vaccine in one of three ways, depending on where they live.

“And the bottom line is that it all depends on supply,” she said.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — who recently announced vaccine eligibility would expand starting Monday to anyone 65 and older and several new groups of essential workers — defended Michigan’s slow rollout Friday, saying Michigan is "in the same situation as every other state: We're all building this up."

Statewide, just under 200,000 of the 725,850 vaccine doses sent to Michigan have been administered as of Friday, according to the state’s vaccine dashboard. 

And Michigan ranked 40th among states Friday in vaccines administered per 100,000 residents, according to data tracking by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

State Rep. Graham Filler, R-DeWitt, blamed communication breakdowns between the Whitmer administration and local health officials for the fitful start to vaccine distribution in Michigan.

 

“Hospitals and health departments have no idea how and when they are receiving the vaccine doses, because the communication seems to be so bad," he said. "And so then these health departments can't schedule things." 

"We all knew that getting vaccines was the key to reopening the state, to getting people immunized to the virus, and so why is there such a shocking lack of preparation from the governor's office?"

But some health officials involved in the process say vaccine data has been lagging or can be misleading.

For example, it appeared this week that Oakland County’s health department — whose website indicates there are no appointment openings to get a vaccine — had thousands of unused supplies. As of Friday morning, the county had administered 2,373 of the 5,850 vaccines shipped to them, according to its website.

But the apparently unused 3,477 vaccines were not sitting idly in storage; rather, they were reserved for people who had already signed up for shots through Tuesday, said Bill Mullan, a county spokesperson.

When additional vaccine supplies arrive from Pfizer, he said, the county will re-open scheduling.

“We get 24 hours notice [on] how many doses and when it will arrive,” Mullan said. “On our first shipment, we got an email saying they were going to arrive, and [the shipment] showed up a half-hour later.”

Complicating logistics is that both the Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer vaccines — the two vaccines approved for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — each require two doses, doubling the paperwork, scheduling and staff time for each recipient.

 

It’s going to be a lurching ride for a while, some county and health officials told Bridge Michigan.

In addition to local health department websites, Michiganders are urged to find vaccine information, as it becomes available, at vaccinefinder.org and on the state’s website. (On Friday, just two local health departments had uploaded their information to that site.)

Public health stretched thin as vaccines arrive 

Of course, many residents remain unsure whether they want a COVID-19 vaccine, at least for now. 

Public health officials say they want at least 70 percent of the state vaccinated to achieve herd immunity from the virus. To get there, they realize more education is needed to make people comfortable with the vaccine. That task is complicated during a pandemic, when many public workers are already stretched thin by contact tracing efforts, virus testing and sorting out the logistics of administering the vaccines. 

In Clio in Genesee County, David Thompson said he and his wife, Cheryl, both 66, know that adverse reactions to the vaccines have been rare. Still.

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“It only takes a little gram of doubt, and you start worrying about it,” he said. “I have people relying on me, and I worry: If something happens to me, what happens to them?”

“I’d feel better if I had some positive information,” he said. “To be honest, I’m not sure where to get the answers” about the safety of the vaccine.

Public health experts have told Bridge that education outreach will take many forms: through the news media and social media, phone calls, web sites, and fliers delivered through programs that deliver meals, for example, to the homebound. 

But they’ll also rely on family members and loved ones to reach the most isolated Michiganders.

“It's going to take effort by everyone, not just the county to get the word out,” said Mullan, of Oakland County.

Cam McClure, 73, of West Bloomfield, an advocate for seniors as a member of the Oakland County Senior Advisory Council, said he worries about the ability of older residents who are living on their own to get a vaccine.

“The person in the nursing home or the people in the hospitals — they’re in one place and easy to get to,” he said, referring to the state’s efforts to date to vaccinate those in nursing homes or health care.

“We need answers,” said Cam McClure, 73, who said he and friends are relying on local officials to help them access vaccines. (Bridge file photo by Dale Young)

“But it’s people like me that you’ll have problems reaching. You have to tell me ‘Where do I have to go? What do I have to do? When will it happen?’ We need the answers,” McClure said.

Sandra Tyner, also of West Bloomfield, said she has been frustrated by her inability to get those answers. 

The 76-year-old former teacher said she has called pharmacies but has been told they’re not scheduling yet.

She called her doctor’s office: “They said they won’t have them for another three months,” she said.

She thinks she’s enrolled to get an update from the Oakland County Health Department.

And she’s enlisted the help of her son to navigate websites and text messaging.

“I don’t know how they’ll get hold of everyone. I’m trying to be proactive, and I’m not getting anywhere,” Tyner said.

She’s been waiting for a vaccine and she’s now eligible, But West Bloomfield’s Sandra Tyner, 73, still doesn’t have an appointment for a vaccine. (Courtesy photo)

Republican Senate Health Policy Chair Curt VanderWall, of Ludington, also criticized the Whitmer administration: "They underestimated the desire, the need and the help that it takes to get this done," he told Bridge two days after calling on state health director Robert Gordon to resign from President-elect Joe Biden's transition team to focus exclusively on the state vaccine rollout. 

But Democrat Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan sees it differently; directing blame instead at the Trump administration, which has largely left the vaccine rollout to each state.

“Understand, the federal government never had a sensible distribution plan,” he said Thursday, in announcing a plan to begin vaccinating 20,000 people at the Detroit TCF center in the next month. Vaccinations for Detroit police and transportation workers began Friday; seniors over 65 can be vaccinated next Wednesday.

Michigan has "pushed out every single vaccine" it has received, Whitmer said Friday, and is exploring new options to allow more pharmacies to administer doses and relieve local health departments burdened with much of the task.

Michigan is getting about 60,000 vaccines a week from Pfizer, and "100 percent of those are shipped out upon receipt," Whitmer told reporters.

The first wave went to health care systems and local health departments, which the administration is now asking to use their inventory within seven days. The state also contracted with two pharmacy chains, CVS and Walgreens, which in December began to vaccinate residents in long-term care facilities. Starting Monday, people over 65, as well as essential workers that include K-12 teachers and child care staff will qualify for vaccinations.

All Moderna vaccine doses for Michigan are shipped directly to CVS and Walgreens to administer each week through 207-vaccinating locations, Whitmer said. 

The Whitmer administration is "trying to get more pharmacies approved so they can engage in the federal program" to get vaccinations to the public, Whitmer added, noting that the state is also offering up the Michigan National Guard to assist. 

"Our daily shots-in-arms have climbed considerably over the last week alone," she said.

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Comments

Suzanne Weathers
Sat, 01/09/2021 - 10:10am

I am perplexed by drive through vaccine administration plans. Though rare, some anaphylactic reactions have occurred. How will drive through distributions monitor for these rare reactions? I am finishing my volunteer registry application, another process that can use some improvement. I am a nurse, and I am willing to help with vaccine administration. I want to be vaccinated before I participate (and I am old enough to qualify for those now eligible), and I want to do so in a situation safe for me and those seeking vaccination.

Karen Evans
Sat, 01/09/2021 - 10:41am

I too am worried about the availability of getting the vaccine. I live in Southwestern Michigan which has always been an ignored part of the state. No one I have contacted including the local health department can give me any answers about when it will be available let alone making an appointment. I am a 72 year old Senior who also has several medical issues. Might I suggest that the state work with Senior Centers and use them to set up vaccination sites.

Jacqueline
Sat, 01/09/2021 - 10:46am

I think your reporting on the rollout of the Covid 19 vaccine in Michigan is incomplete and a little biased. You did not comment on several factors contributing to the logistical problems of building this program. First and foremost is the complete lack of direction and assistance from the federal government. The trump administration decided from day one of this pandemic that states are on their own to figure out how to proceed with testing, tracing, and proper equipment for health care workers. Michigan's GOP has acted as a giant speed bump, trying to block and discredit the governor at every step. Some factors you should have considered: nursing staff; public health nurses are overwhelmed managing their regular duties in addition to the work of testing and tracing Covid. Now they need to figure out how to educate the health care workers who will be administering the vaccines since this vaccine requires complicated mixing, handling, and tracking. Where do they find trained health care workers to assist with this, when there's already a shortage of workers due to the pandemic?
They have to guarantee that the vaccine is maintained at correct temperatures throughout it's processing and transportation. They've had to figure out an efficient system for documenting who got the vaccine and how to contact them to ensure a correctly timed second dose. They must have staff available to track and report any side effects to the vaccine because it's still under investigation (this is a lengthy, time consuming process). I'm an RN and I have worked with a research unit doing clinical trials; the required documentation is overwhelming. Add the burden of constant calls from the public wanting their vaccine TODAY and it becomes a herculean job to manage. Are there processes that could have streamlined some of this rollout? No doubt, but we have 50 states struggling to create this from the ground up with virtually no direction or assistance, and partisan politics slowing the process. Public health departments and health care facilities are doing everything they can to manage this as safely and efficiently as possible. They will improve as routines are developed. In the meantime, I would urge you to remind your readers that the vaccine is not a magic bullet. They will still need to wear masks and social distance. We don't know how long immunity lasts after vaccination or if vaccinated people can still transmit the virus. If someone is under 65 with no chronic health problems and they're not a front line worker, they need to be patient and wait until the high risk people have been vaccinated. Thank you.

MarkT
Tue, 01/12/2021 - 9:28am

All the issues you have laid out, and the list seems correct, are the reason we have a state government. The federal government cannot know the specific challenges of the individual states. They have sent vaccine to michigan, with 6 months of anticipatory prep time. It is up to us to have a plan to distribute it.

James L. Fenner
Sat, 01/09/2021 - 1:53pm

Like some of those mentioned in the article, as a person older than 65 (by quite a bit) I am extremely disappointed at my lack of ability to get an appointment for a vaccination. Oakland Co. is doing a terrible job. Not providing information, not allow registration, not announcing when appointments are available or going to be availible. Beaumont Health is at least as bad, if not worse. Little or no information. Only offer vaccinations at one location, quite far from me. Not taking reservations. My wife and I are I'm limbo. unable to get information, unable to get a reservation. Unable to plan. Soon, we will have to cancel our travel plans for early February, because of the incompetence of Oakland Co, and Beaumont Health system. We can't even contact anyone by phone. They seem to have disconnected or turned off their phones. Tragic and very disappointing. Most of my elderly cousins and relatives in Florida have gotten their shots, or at least have an appointment. I never expected Michigan to be slower or worse than Florida in taking care of its elderly residents. Sad and Angry.

Bill Sterling
Sun, 01/10/2021 - 3:42am

I just love how our politicians play their games. No one takes responsibility. Mayor Duggan blames the president. Individual states are responsible for their actions. Everyone wants the federal government to lead them by the hand. Our beloved governor has no plan either. She and her people are busy with the Bieden presidency and they’re looking for more pharmacies to distribute the vaccine. WHAT THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN DOING? You’ve had months to prepare for this moment and you don’t have a comprehensive plan.

Suzanne Weathers
Sun, 01/10/2021 - 9:07am

It seems early to be concerned about those hesitant or unwilling to receive a vaccine, when those who want it are waiting for an opportunity . I am concerned about drive through methods of expediting vaccination, because "giving a shot" requires some expertise. The deltoid muscle in the upper arm is about 2 fingers below the shoulder edge, and this area for injection is triangular. Anyone receiving an injection should be wearing a loose, short-sleeved or no sleeve garment to allow access to this area. Although anaphylactic reactions have been rare, I question how drive through distributions are monitoring for this possibility. I am a nurse, willing and available to help with vaccinations that are done safely. I would want to be vaccinated myself before participating (and I am old enough to be in the now eligible age range) for my safety. The Michigan volunteer registry application process is not working well.

Pat Nelson
Sun, 01/10/2021 - 9:13am

meijer was taking registrations, but that is no longer on their website. Wondering what happened there.

Obviously hospitals and local health depts. are overwhelmed with all the other duties related to othe virus. Why not use this this excellent chain of pharmacies -- as flu vaccine administration must be winding down, it seems like they would have capacity,

Nancy
Mon, 01/11/2021 - 10:53am

What good is being eligible if there are no shots to get

SB SMITH
Mon, 01/11/2021 - 11:47am

Shame on all who are doing the "Fuzzy Math" with the over inflated Covid reporting. Why are you adding in November & December to stats for mid-January? Is this another attempt to keep Michigan locked down? Is this an attempt to add more people to the unemployment rolls, to force more small businesses out of business, to continue to scare the elderly to the point they won't even leave their homes? All of the reporting is so political and a cover up to divert attention from the lack of follow through getting Michigan residents vaccinated quickly. I have been following vaccine release and innoculation data for all of the States and Michigan has really failed to get the vaccines out to those who need them first. Shame on you for reporting fuzzy math - shame of the state for not getting the vaccinations materials to the departments that need them. I have lost all confidence in the Michigan leadership - it is time for a change!

Hector Bueno
Tue, 01/12/2021 - 12:09pm

I finally received a call back from Rep Andrea Schroeder's office pertaining to my concerns about the incompetent handling of vaccine distribution. All I got was "its the Governor's fault" "we're out of the loop".
There are 110 Representatives in Michigan. What were they doing as the pandemic slowly but surely raged throughout the state? How many were deniers? How many felt that supporting Michigan and advocating for COVID19 assistance would be translated into not supporting Trump's virus hoax conspiracy?
Priority now should be placed on getting the vaccine roll out to be as good as other states. Then, each Rep should be judged on their involvement or lack of during this vexing and deadly period.

Ann
Wed, 01/13/2021 - 10:32am

I'm retired and had time to dedicate calling for an appointment. It took 2 1/2 hours and 575 redials to get through by pure luck (tracking by my phone).. now I'll drive 2 hours one way twice to get vaccinated because slots are filled in my county...
There should be an easier way...