As health systems and pharmacies ramp up capacity to administer COVID-19 vaccines, the state wants to increase the number of doses coming into Michigan.
Vaccinations began last month with health care workers and long-term care facilities and this week expanded to a phase that includes seniors, law enforcement and other first responders, teachers and school staff, child care workers, and corrections officers.
In a media briefing today, Michigan Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said the state presently lacks enough doses to meet rising demand from people who are eligible to get vaccinated.
The state ultimately wants to get 70 percent of residents 16 years and older vaccinated, or 5.6 million people.
“We know that there is not enough vaccine available in the state to be able to vaccinate all of these populations and it will take several months to complete at the current rate of vaccines that we are receiving in the state,” Khaldun said.
Health care providers are working to “put as many shots in arms each day,” said Tricia Foster, Michigan’s chief operating officer. The state remains flexible and “can adjust to whatever news we hear from the federal government about more or less supply,” Foster said.
The state was originally told by the federal government in December that it would receive more than 300,000 vaccine doses weekly and “planned accordingly,” Foster said, “but that weekly number has been significantly reduced.”
The state has received only 60,000 doses weekly over the past few weeks that were distributed to providers to administer, Foster said. Given the reduction from what was first expected, the state’s initial goal of vaccinating 50,000 people a day “is impossible with the number of vaccines we are receiving each week,” she said.
The Whitmer administration has faced some criticism in the early weeks of the vaccine distribution over the apparent gap between doses the state has received from the federal government compared to how many are administered. According to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine dashboard, 831,150 doses have been shipped while 332,139 have been administered as of Wednesday afternoon. However, that likely doesn’t account for doses still in transit or have otherwise not been received.
“We need the federal government to step up and get vaccines out the door,” Foster said. “Every dose of the vaccine that we have received has been delivered to a provider and that provider has scheduled the dose to be administered. I want to make it very clear, the state of Michigan is not sitting on doses of vaccines.”
Ramping up capacity
Health care providers have said that the primary limitation on how quickly they can vaccinate people hinges on the availability of doses.
Care providers have been ramping up capacity and planning to open clinics to offer vaccines by appointment.
At Ascension Michigan, for instance, “We continue to implement a comprehensive vaccine administration plan consistent with federal and state guidance,” the health system said this week in a statement. Ascension Michigan includes Kalamazoo-based Ascension Borgess.
“In alignment with the state, Ascension Michigan is currently planning community vaccination clinics and will begin initially reaching out to schedule our patients age 65 and older as vaccine supply becomes available,” the health system said.
As the state pushes to get more doses, the Whitmer administration has partnered with Walker-based Meijer Inc. to administer vaccines at its 120 pharmacies statewide. The state will add other retail pharmacies to the plan, according to Foster.
Whitmer said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services this week agreed to a request from Michigan and eight other states to release millions of doses that had been “held back” by the federal government. Whitmer has also asked the outgoing Trump administration for the state’s permission to buy 100,000 doses directly, she said.
“We don’t want our health care professionals to have to cancel scheduled appointments. We need more product today, tomorrow and ongoing,” Foster said. “Regular, consistent and greater weekly supply is what we need right now.”
Even with limited supply, and as demand increases, the number of vaccine doses administered in Michigan has grown to 33,000 daily from 12,000 a day last week, Foster said.
“That’s progress,” she said, “but we have so much more work to do.”