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Federal Government to Send More COVID-19 Vaccines to Michigan

January 12, 2021

A flood of new doses of coronavirus vaccines are headed to states, said Alex Azar, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, at a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

But just how many doses Michigan and other states will get will depend on two factors, Azar said: The size of the state’s senior citizen population and how efficiently each state is getting those doses into the arms of its people.

“Because we now have a consistent pace of production, we can now ship all of the doses that had been held in physical reserve with second doses being supplied coming off of manufacturing lines with quality control going forward,” he said.

Michigan’s population skews older than the U.S. on average, which means the state might see a larger proportion of vaccine doses. Here, seniors ages 65 and older make up about 17.7% of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey estimate released in 2019. Comparatively, those 65 and older make up about 16.5% of the overall U.S. population.

State data show Michigan had distributed 829,200 doses of the vaccines as of Sunday to local health departments, hospital systems, and to federal partners Walgreens and CVS, which are administering vaccines to people in long-term care facilities. Yet those providers had only injected 233,085 doses into the arms of Michiganders as of that date — about 28% of those received.

State health officials say the data don’t tell the full story, and that many of the doses sitting in freezers around Michigan are earmarked for patients who have appointments already scheduled to get the vaccines. They also note that there’s a lag between the time when the doses are administered and when the data are reported to the state.

“We’re giving states two weeks notice of this shift to give them the time necessary to plan and to improve their reporting,” Azar said. “If they think their data is faulty, this new system gives states a strong incentive to ensure that all vaccinations are being properly reported, which they’re currently not. And it gives states a strong incentive to ensure doses are going to work…protecting people rather than sitting on shelves or in freezers.”

“With the case counts we face now, there is absolutely no time to waste. We need those is going to where they’ll be administered quickly, and where they’ll protect the most vulnerable.”

The announcement comes after the governors of eight states — including Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — called on the Trump administration to release those additional doses now, rather than holding them back.

“Michigan and states across the country remain ready to get more shots in arms, which is why the Trump Administration’s decision to grant our request and release millions of doses of the vaccine is so crucial,” Gov. Whitmer said in a news release.

“It will take all of us — the federal government, state and local leaders, health departments, and everyday Americans — to ensure everyone can get the safe and effective vaccine.”

Gov. Whitmer also has asked federal health officials for permission to directly buy up to 100,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine for the state of Michigan, but has yet to get a response.

“I am eager to hear back from the federal government regarding my request, and will continue to work with them and leaders everywhere to end this pandemic and save lives,” Gov. Whitmer said.

Azar and Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also recommended Tuesday that states open up vaccinations to Americans ages 65 years old and older and people of all ages with underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable to severe illness or death from novel coronavirus.

Michigan began offering immunizations to senior citizens on Monday along with teachers, law enforcement officers, jail and prison officers, and child care workers, but efforts have been hampered by short supply of the vaccines.

Some local health departments have said they’ll hold off opening up immunizations to people over age 65 until they get more doses to immunize the health care workers in the first priority group.

So far in the pandemic, the virus has infected more than 523,618 Michiganders and killed 13,401.

*Originally published in the Detroit Free Press.