Michigan's general public may not get COVID shots until October

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan health officials revealed Friday how the slow rollout of the two COVID-19 vaccines has dimmed an earlier forecast about when the shots would be available to the general public.

In late December, Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said she expected the vaccine to be available to the general public by late spring. But Friday's presentation by Michigan Department of Health and Human Services officials included a timeline showing that members of the general public — those who don't belong to a special group like people older than age 65 or specified front-line workers — would not be vaccinated until October or November, a shift of about four to five months.

But Khaldun noted Michigan's timeline could change depending on how much vaccine is available. 

Officials outlined a detailed strategy Friday to get at least 70% of residents immunized against COVID-19, but they said the plan can't be fully implemented until the state receives more doses of vaccine from the federal government. 

"I'm proud to say that we have the capacity right now to vaccinate up to 80,000 people a day in the state," Khaldun said during a Friday media briefing. "Our biggest limitation really is the amount of vaccine coming to the state.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun

"It's unfortunate that everyone who's eligible for a vaccine today can't get one, unfortunately, because we simply do not have enough vaccines." 

In late December, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services listed an initial goal of vaccinating 70% of Michigan residents 16 and older, or about 5.6 million people, by the end of 2021.

Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel noted Friday that the health department has shifted the way it allocates the vaccine within the state as the number of providers giving vaccinations has increased. 

When the vaccine initially became available in mid-December, all doses were divided among five hospitals that were pre-identified as equipped and ready to quickly administer the vaccines.

The list quickly expanded to include more hospitals and local health departments, but hospitals continued to get the largest share of the doses because health care workers were the first priority group to be vaccinated. But that's no longer the case, Hertel said. 

"We have been allocating to around 140 providers between the hospitals and health departments," she said. "We have begun to reallocate ... first to a 50-50 split between hospitals and local health departments.

"We went to a 60-40 allocation last week or the week before toward the local health departments who we are asking to focus specifically on vulnerable communities."

Dennis Cunningham, Henry Ford Health System's director of infection control and prevention, explained how great the need is for more shipments of the vaccines. He noted this week that the Detroit-based hospital only received "just enough for second doses, not adequate to provide first doses."

Next week's vaccine allocation in Michigan will include 62,400 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 90,900 doses of the Moderna vaccine, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin said Friday. The 153,300 doses are less than a two-day supply if Michigan were to immunize 80,000 daily five days per week.  

President Joe Biden's administration said Tuesday that 10.5 million doses will be shipped to the states every week for the next three weeks — an about 20% increase in the number available when Biden took office.

Jeff Zients, the Biden administration’s coordinator for the pandemic, said the increase stems from Pfizer and Moderna ramping up production of the vaccines. Allotments to the states will continue to rise as the drugmakers scale up production, Zients said.

Khaldun noted Johnson & Johnson submitted Thursday its new one-dose vaccine for emergency use authorization to the federal Food and Drug Administration. Federal approval would further boost the amount of vaccine available in the country. 

"As we get more vaccine, I do expect that (vaccination) calendar to change and for populations to get vaccinated sooner," she said. 

Among strategies outlined by Khaldun, the state hopes to create vaccination sites in each of Michigan's emergency preparedness regions, with at least one location open 24/7. 

That plan would help health officials meet the goal of no Michigan residents having to travel more than 20 minutes to get a shot.  

Another goal is to administer all doses of vaccine allocated to Michigan within seven days of their arrival in the state, and Khaldun noted Michigan has improved in the national rankings on the proportion of doses administered. 

As of Friday, Michigan received 1,818,225 doses of vaccine and administered 1,127,787 doses to patients, according to state data — about 62%, a significant improvement since Jan. 7 when The Detroit News reported that 23% of doses received had become shots in arms. 

"We maximize our federal allocation of vaccine that's available to us, we drawn down as much as we can and get it out to our communities and our providers," Khaldun said. 

"There's no centralized place in Lansing where there's a freezer of vaccine. We're getting it out to providers so they can give shots in arms."

kbouffard@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer Sarah Rahal contributed.