We’re now nearly two months into the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, and Michigan is still lagging behind other states when it comes to getting shots in the arms of our residents.
Frustration is growing among people, especially vulnerable residents age 65 and up and essential workers who have been promised a shot. The governor went on TV and told them they’re eligible, and yet appointments seem nearly impossible to come by.
We cannot continue to point the finger elsewhere. Emergencies like the pandemic are federally supported, state managed and locally executed. Our local health department is doing an outstanding job communicating how residents can sign up for the vaccination and exploring innovative ways to distribute the vaccine close to where people live throughout the county. Rather than recognizing our locals for their resilience and perseverance and focusing on finding solutions or the deficiencies in the state’s system, the Whitmer administration seems to be focused on placing blame or adding new criteria – again moving the goal posts.
As of Feb. 7, the per-capita vaccine administration rate in other states is as high as 19,900 per 100,000 people and Michigan’s rate is just 12,500. Alaska and West Virginia are facing the same challenges Michigan has, and yet they seem to be having more success getting shots in arms.
Most local health departments were taken by complete surprise last month when the governor and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced it was opening vaccines to all residents age 65 and older – which contradicts the action plan the department had put out previously. Instead of focusing first on essential health care workers and vulnerable residents in nursing homes in the earliest phase followed by residents 75 and up, they moved the goal post and overwhelmed local health departments.
It also seems that essential health workers working outside of a hospital such as our optometrists are not on the list. These workers provide a valuable service and are an integral part of the overall health of their patients. We know comorbidity factors play a significant role in how our bodies react to the virus and a visit to the optometrist can be telling of possible health problems such as diabetes.
Local facilities have thousands of seniors and essential workers who are knocking on their doors in search of this life-saving vaccine and they’re not getting the information or the resources they need from the state department in charge of the rollout.
The Livingston County Health Department reports that some help could soon be on the way, thanks to the new Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination. The federal government has partnered with 21 national pharmacy chains to help administer the vaccine and will begin shipping doses directly to some as early as Feb. 11.
One of the hiccups creating a challenge when it comes to vaccinating health care workers boils down to poor planning at the state level. Numerous health leaders have said the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services did not provide a central database for hospitals to access to seek out other independent health-care workers to vaccinate. Once hospital systems are vaccinated, they are then tasked with reaching out to health-care workers at private medical offices, dentistry offices and other similar facilities to administer vaccinations. Since there is no central database, hospitals have reported challenges reaching providers.
The people of Michigan don’t want to hear any more excuses. They want a better plan of action. They deserve better results. It’s time for the governor to stop making unilateral decisions that affect the entire state without listening to the local people on the ground. Let’s work together to find solutions, communicate more clearly, and empower our local health partners to vaccinate people in our communities without jumping through unnecessary bureaucratic hoops.
State Rep. Ann Bollin represents southeast Livingston County in the Michigan House. She previously served for 16 years as Brighton Township Clerk.