Michigan’s race to get everyone vaccinated leaves some senior citizens behind

Vaccinations still difficult to find, schedule

On Jan. 6, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer opened up COVID-19 vaccinations to those 65 and older, first responders, frontline state and federal staff, jail and inmate populations, teachers and child-care staff.

LANSING, Mich. – The first case confirmed case of coronavirus in Michigan was announced March 10, 2020.

Since that time, the results have been devastating, especially to senior citizens. People 60-years-old and older account for 24% of the confirmed cases in Michigan but are 90% of the confirmed deaths.

Feb. 4, 2021: Michigan coronavirus cases up to 565,251; Death toll now at 14,778

On Jan. 6, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer opened up COVID-19 vaccinations to those 65 and older, first responders, frontline state and federal staff, jail and inmate populations, teachers and child-care staff.

“We have a limited supply so running out on a regular basis would be a good thing,” Whitmer said Jan. 6.

Shawn Cornelissen, a Livonia senior citizen, does not agree. Her health department, Wayne County, has said to not call for a vaccine, but to call your health provider.

Cornelissen said her health provider doesn’t have enough vaccine and seniors are being dangerously left behind.

RELATED: High-risk Metro Detroit woman hits vaccine roadblock as healthier friends get the shot

“It’s going to be too late. They’re going to get sick. Things are opening, the virus is getting close to home,” Cornelissen said. “If they get sick now after almost a year of being safe, it’s just like, really? They shouldn’t have. They should have been first.”

Where are the vaccine doses and why aren’t seniors getting them?

“We ask our seniors that are 65 or older -- contrary to what the state has mentioned that you need to call your health department -- if they call us, we are going to direct them to these health systems and tell them this is how they need to handle it,” said Wayne County Chief Health strategist Dr. Mouhanad Hammami on Jan. 11.

Now the state is sending health providers -- like Henry Ford Hospital -- fewer doses. Nearly 2,000 Pfizer first doses were delivered to Wayne County, along with 3,900 Moderna first doses.

Wayne County health officials told Cornelissen not to call, but her provider is booked and she sees the city of Detroit upping its vaccinations to 15,000 people each week.

“It’s frustrating. You wonder, did you pick the wrong county to live in?” Cornelissen asked. “Did you pick the wrong healthcare system?”

The federal government sent 113,100 Moderna vaccines, 62,400 Pfizer vaccines to the state this week -- a total of 175,500 vaccines. How does the state decided where they go?

The state uses the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index (SVI). It’s a formula that includes socioeconomic status, disability, minority status, language spoken, type of housing, transportation and areas hit hardest by COVID.

The state said it also factors in areas where high rates of transmission and/or outbreaks occurred and workers whoa re at increased risk for severe illness based on age or medical conditions.

This formula gave Wayne County its largest shipment of vaccine yet -- 8,300 doses.

Wayne County health workers started distributing the vaccine at the Wayne County Community College Campus in Taylor.

Bess Sidone, 35, and Kristina Chevalier, 32, are school maintenance workers who became eligible for the vaccine.

“It went great,” Sidone said. “The line wasn’t that long.”

“I figured, ‘Why not?’ It went well,” Chevalier said. “It didn’t even hurt.”

Local 4 camera crews tried to find senior citizens at the campus getting vaccinated and were unable to find any.

Hammami said the focus is on teachers and school staff, a decision made by the SVI and in hopes that more students go back to in-person learning in March.

Why are 200,000 Wayne County seniors being left out?

“Patience. We ask for everyone to be patient,” Hammami said. “We are dealing with a situation everyone else is dealing with in the same way.”

More information on Wayne County’s vaccination program can read on its official website here.

READ: Michigan COVID-19 vaccinations: How to find appointments, info on phases

About the Authors:

Local 4 Defender Shawn Ley is an Emmy award-winning journalist who has been with Local 4 News for more than a decade.

Dane is a producer and media enthusiast. He previously worked freelance video production and writing jobs in Michigan, Georgia and Massachusetts. Dane graduated from the Specs Howard School of Media Arts.