Health systems asking Michigan state officials to speed up COVID-19 vaccine deliveries have an ally now in U.S. health secretary Alex Azar, who announced Tuesday he has authorized release of all Pfizer and Moderna doses the federal government has warehoused for second doses.
But Azar also said the earliest states could receive the hundreds of thousands of extra doses is two weeks, after Joe Biden is inaugurated as the nation’s 46th president.
This week, Michigan received one of the lowest number of doses since mid-December, 60,450, which resulted in fewer distributions by five-fold than what health systems, local health departments and federally qualified health centers requested, system executives said.
Spokesperson Lynn Sutfin of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services told Crain’s Wednesday morning that the federal government has only promised 62,400 doses of the Pfizer vaccine for next week.
Until the end of the month, the state’s Moderna 300,000-plus dose allocation is being transferred to CVS and Walgreens as part of the federal long-term care program for residents and staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
As of Monday, the state had recorded 296,588 vaccine shots administered, an average about 74,000 per week since mass inoculations began in Michigan the week of Dec. 14. MDHHS reports 831,150 doses of vaccines have been shipped to health care providers as of Monday, leaving 533,562 doses (64 percent) somewhere in the distribution pipeline. In some cases, the doses have been administered, but not yet reported to the state because of data lags.
In a Wednesday news briefing, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer acknowledged the state is far behind its goal of vaccinating 50,000 people per day from COVID-19. She blamed the federal government’s promises of 300,000 vaccine doses per week, when, in fact, the state has been receiving a little more than 60,000 doses the past several weeks.
“Early on it was an epic failure on a national strategy for (personal protective equipment), the masks and gloves that our frontline providers needed, and then the failure to develop a national strategy around testing. And now we’re seeing the same thing, unfortunately, with regard to vaccine distribution,” Whitmer said.
State officials did not say when Michigan expects to receive the hundreds of thousands of doses promised by the federal government.
“To get more shots in the arms we need help” from the federal government, said Whitmer, adding the state is trying to get more clear on the timing and amount of future deliveries.
“We do not have enough vaccines for everyone who wants one. We are building up quickly, but we ask people to be patient,” Whitmer said.
Meanwhile, doctors and administrators at Trinity Health Michigan, Henry Ford Health System and Beaumont Health told Crain’s Tuesday they expect to run out of vaccine doses as early as Saturday and by mid-next week unless they get a major infusion of doses.
System executives said they have been administering doses at a faster pace the past week than earlier this year and have been exhausting their inventories.
COO Carolyn Wilson of Beaumont Health said the eight-hospital system has started to administer second doses of the vaccine to employees while also ramping up first dose vaccines to people 65 or older and frontline health care workers.
Besides health systems, local health departments and other organizations, health systems “are begging for more vaccines” to administer to thousands of people wanting them, Wilson said.
Wilson said Beaumont asked the state for 34,000 doses last Thursday and received 7,000 on Monday. She said Beaumont could ramp up to dose 10,000 people per day if it received sufficient volume of the vaccines.
In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp has threatened to take away unused COVID-19 vaccines from larger hospital systems and other organizations that he says are not moving fast enough to dose people.
“If this issue continues, the state will take possession of those doses and ensure that vaccinations continue,” said Kemp, according to the Associated Press. “And if it takes me firing up my pickup truck and doing it myself, so be it.”
Sutfin said the state aware health organizations inoculating people would like to have more vaccine doses. She suggested the state will not reallocate unused doses stored in deep freezers to health systems.
“While we would love to be able to move that vaccine we do still need to finish vaccinating the long-term care population and want to be sure that what was allotted to them is administered as quickly as possible,” said Sutfin in an email to Crain’s Tuesday evening.
Sutfin said MDHHS also is seeking to speed up the long-term care vaccination program and include potentially more pharmacies to administer those doses.
Whitmer on Monday asked the CDC for permission to contract with Kroger and Meijer pharmacies. She said Wednesday the state has partnered already with Meijer, but did not give details when the Grand Rapids-based company will begin dosing.
“We are awaiting feedback from CDC,” Sutfin said. “Following (Tuesday’s) announcement, it appears more vaccines are coming into Michigan and we look forward to hearing more about that from (the federal) HHS.”
“Vaccinating our most vulnerable populations, especially those in long term care facilities, is a priority and we would like it to happen as quickly as possible,” she said. “We are encouraging and facilitating partnerships across the state between hospitals, local health departments, and pharmacies to be able to vaccinate eligible populations as quickly as possible.”
Whitmer said Michigan would like answers to its questions whether the federal government will purchase additional vaccine doses from Pfizer and Moderna, or whether Michigan can purchase 100,000 on its own.
“We would be even more help, we would be in even stronger position, if they also allowed us to purchase Michigan to directly purchase more vaccines,” Whitmer said. “I also urged the Trump administration to actually purchase vaccines that have been allotted for the United States. That is an unanswered question that we’ve been posing for weeks.”
Sutfin said Michigan cannot use the $90 million in federal CARES Act 2 funds earmarked for vaccine distribution, which Congress approved in December, until the state Legislature approves release of the funds.
“Until that happens we can’t get those funds out the door,” Sutfin said.
Through Senate Bill 748, $51.3 million in general funds will support local health providers to increase capacity for direct vaccine administration. Facilities include nursing homes, hospitals, federally qualified health centers and health departments.
An additional $1.2 million in state funds will be used to extend the National Guard’s mission through March for testing and vaccinations.
Another $5.9 million from the federal CARES Act can be used for clinic infrastructure development tied to COVID-19 vaccine efforts.
The slow pace of the vaccine rollout has frustrated many Americans at a time when the coronavirus death toll has continued to rise. More than 380,000 people have died, including more than 14,000 in Michigan, according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus database.