Members of Congress urge White House to send more vaccines to Michigan

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — U.S. Reps. Fred Upton and Debbie Dingell wrote Thursday to President Joe Biden urging him to boost Michigan's COVID-19 vaccine allocation amid a serious surge in virus cases, saying it would "help save lives." 

Upton, a St. Joseph Republican, and Dingell, a Dearborn Democrat, said the spike in cases has placed "significant strain" on the state’s public health infrastructure, as Michigan leads the nation with the highest rates of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and intensive care unit use.

"There is now substantial evidence of community transmission throughout Michigan, as well as increase in prevalence of more contagious variants," the lawmakers wrote.

"Surging additional vaccines into Michigan and other hard-hit areas is consistent with guidance from public health experts.

"Deploying additional COVID-19 vaccine doses in this manner will allow the federal government to make the most effective use of its current vaccine supply and bring us closer to an end of the pandemic."

Michigan is reporting about 5,000 new cases a day, with the numbers exceeding 8,000 on some days, according to state data. The state's test positivity rate is up 348% from six weeks ago, growing to nearly 16% Wednesday. 

Michigan added 7,819 cases and confirmed 73 deaths tied to COVID on Thursday, according to state health department data.

Michigan as of Thursday still had vaccine doses on hand that had not been administered. The state has distributed 5.67 million doses of vaccine to providers and 4.99 million doses have been administered, according to data from the state health department.

The House members noted that Michigan hospitals have begun cancelling surgeries to account for the surge in COVID hospitalizations, with multiple hospitals throughout the state either at or nearing capacity in recent days. 

Dr. Justin Dimick, chair of the Department of Surgery at the University of Michigan, tweeted Thursday that the health system had begun canceling surgeries due to its intake of COVID-19 patients, asking for intervention from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

"We need some help," Dimick tweeted.

But the White House so far has rebuffed Michigan requests for more vaccine, saying as recently as Wednesday that it continues to allocate vaccines to states based on population.

The policy of the Biden administration has been to distribute all available vaccines as they come off the production line and not to hold some back in  stock.

The White House did not comment Thursday on Upton and Dingell's letter. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday that Michigan officials are "surging" vaccine supply to areas of the state that are experiencing more outbreaks of COVID-19.

CDC teams are on the ground in Michigan working to assess outbreaks in correctional facilities and facilitate more testing in the context of youth sports, she said. 

Walensky also expressed support for stricter public health measures in Michigan to slow the growth in COVID infections.

"I would advocate for sort of stronger mitigation strategies, as you know, to sort of decrease the community activity, ensure mask-wearing, and we're working closely with the state to try and work towards that," Walensky said about Michigan in a Wednesday briefing. 

Walensky suggested that in areas of substantial or high community transmission — which includes Michigan — "I encourage communities to consider adjustments to meet their unique needs and circumstances," such as refraining from youth sports that are not outside and cannot be conducted at least 6 feet apart.

Whitmer has not indicated plans to reimpose COVID restrictions, telling CNN this week that Michigan might be able to lift most remaining COVID-19 business restrictions this summer if the state's vaccination rate increases.

Whitmer did say youth sports "may be one area that we've got to do more in."

The state's goal is to vaccinate 70% of individuals older than 16. The rate stands at 24% as of Thursday. 

mburke@detroitnews.com