An analysis by USA Today of vaccine distribution found Michigan’s focus on “equity” based on race and income “left people of color behind.”
The paper analyzed the rollout strategies of two Upper Midwest states:
Michigan and Minnesota both had ample opportunities to push out vaccines through professional health care settings and into the arms of patients. They have essentially the same numbers of hospitals, rural clinics and doctors per capita.
But in the race to put shots in arms, Michigan lost. Its vaccination rate lagged Minnesota’s, exacerbating a late-pandemic spike in cases that killed 2,500 people. The vaccination gap between Minnesota and Michigan was particularly high for older people.
Minnesota distributed vaccine doses to “a wide network of doctor’s offices and hospitals across the state.” Michigan, meanwhile, “steered doses to public health departments that aimed to entice uninsured residents to mass vaccine events” in the name of equity.
“Not only did Michigan trail Minnesota’s overall vaccination rate through the end of March, it didn’t do any better at vaccinating Black and Latino residents,” USA Today determined after scrutinizing the data.
“We also recognize that these efforts to address equity sometimes do not yield the high numbers” other methods might, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement, “but we strongly believe this is an important strategy to address equity.”
Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, chair of the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, analyzed the data for the paper and determined Michigan never “came through for its neediest residents.”
In early January, Michigan ranked among the worst states for vaccine distribution.
Only Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, and North Carolina rank lower with fewer vaccinated people per capita.
That came after Gov. Whitmer complained in December that the federal government’s distribution was a disaster.
“My frustration level is high because in Portage there are vaccines ready to be distributed,” Whitmer said in mid-December, according to WDIV. “And the thing standing between us seeing that through is the federal government and I can’t get an answer why.”
Whitmer complained that her call to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar had “gone unanswered.”
In mid-January, Whitmer’s administration continued to buy doses, despite growing surpluses.
Whitmer said in a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as reported. by the Detroit Free Press:
This direct purchase will fill a two-week lag in supply and ensure that we can continue to ramp up our vaccination efforts across Michigan. It is also consistent with Operation Warp Speed’s commitment to deliver a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine to Americans as quickly as possible.
In the waning days of the Trump administration, Whitmer blamed “inconsistent and confusing information from federal officials” for the state’s slow rollout of the vaccine in the state.
Shortly after, in Mid-February, according to USA Today, Whitmer shifted from distributing doses to hospital systems and instead made “equity” the emphasis.
“I am excited to announce initiatives that will help enhance the state’s equity strategy and allow us to get more vulnerable Michiganders vaccinated,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Whitmer’s chief medical executive announced, the paper noted.
Health systems were “taken aback by the shift,” USA Today reported.
In short, Whitmer opted for a public sector strategy — health departments — as opposed to private sector health systems. The burden for health departments grew as a third surge occurred in March and they were also tasked with contract tracing cases.
The paper determined Michigan “was slow to get vaccines to low-income clinics” and only six percent of black residents had been vaccinated by early March.