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Michigan can vaccinate 80,000 a day, but supply limited

As of Wednesday, more than 1.1 million doses had been administered in Michigan since immunizations began in December, including nearly 256,000 second doses.
As of Wednesday, more than 1.1 million doses had been administered in Michigan since immunizations began in December, including nearly 256,000 second doses. (OPB)

LANSING, Mich. – State health officials said Friday that Michigan has capacity to vaccinate up to 80,000 people a day but the supply of COVID-19 doses, while higher in recent weeks, remains limited.

They also said their goal is to ensure no one has to travel more than 20 minutes for the vaccine in the pandemic and that each of nine health care regions has at least one 24/7 mass vaccination site. Another priority is to allocate additional doses to areas based on factors such as poverty, lack of transportation and crowded housing.

It “correlates extremely closely with the communities that were hardest hit by COVID-19 in the spring,” said Elizabeth Hertel, director of the state health department.

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

The city of Detroit, for instance, was an early hot spot. Racial disparities have diminished since, but Detroit still has seen a disproportionate death toll. So have Michigan's Black residents, who comprise 14% of the population but account for 22% of 15,700-plus confirmed or probable deaths tied to the virus.

As of Wednesday, more than 1.1 million doses had been administered in Michigan since immunizations began in December, including nearly 256,000 second doses. The state's per-capita vaccination rate was 18th-highest among the 50 states as of Thursday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Read more: Michigan has administered more than 1 million vaccines, governor says

The rollout has been messy, with complaints ranging from difficulties making appointments to line cutting by potentially ineligible people to inconsistent local policies.

“Our biggest limitation is really the amount of vaccines coming into the state,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical director and chief deputy director for health. Michigan has received 20% more doses in the past couple weeks, she said, adding that Johnson & Johnson on Thursday asked U.S. regulators to clear the world's first single-dose COVID-19 vaccine.

While Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has targeted getting 50,000 shots into arms per day, Khaldun said 80,000 would be achievable with enough supply. The seven-day average was roughly 36,000 through Thursday, down from 39,000 in the prior weeklong period.

At the current pace, the state estimates not being able to begin immunizing people in Phase 2 — those age 16 to 64 and not covered under phases 1A, 1B and 1C — until the summer, with their “core” period coming in the final three months of the year.

“As we get more vaccine, I do expect that calendar to change and for populations to be able to be vaccinated sooner,” Khaldun said. As supply increases, she said, the state will work to make pharmacies, emergency rooms, primary care offices and low-income health clinics vaccination hubs.

Hertel said the state is working toward equitably distributing doses to hospitals and county health departments, based on the population of local residents age 65 and older or who are essential workers like teachers. Allocations also are being weighted based on a “social vulnerability index” developed by the CDC. Many rural, not just urban, areas are particularly vulnerable, according to a state-created map.

Hospitals initially were getting the bulk of doses so they could vaccinate health workers. The state moved to an even split between hospitals and health departments in early January and, this week, gave 60% to health departments and 40% to hospitals.

It had planned a 70%-30% split next week but reversed course after hospital officials complained.

Related: Michigan health director says to call 211 for vaccine appointments, but callers say it’s not working