Limited supply triggers vaccine struggle in Greater Lansing

Health officials weigh priorities with limited initial vaccine distribution


TUESDAY, Jan. 12 — The Ingham County Health Department has started offering COVID-19 vaccines to people over the age of 65. But the availability of those initial doses still remains relatively limited. Smart distribution plans will be essential.

And local residents shouldn’t expect to receive their shots on a first-come, first-serve basis.

On Monday, the Health Department reported that 12,000 county residents had scheduled appointments for the vaccine as far out as Feb. 24. Thousands more are on waiting lists for appointments. 

But as of last week, Ingham County had only been allotted 975 doses of vaccine. Next week, it will be 1,950 doses. The Mid-Michigan District Health Department — which covers Clinton, Gratiot and Montcalm counties — received 1,100 doses. All of them have been used, Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said.

“We are going to have to go through this in a logical, efficient and ethical way,” she explained.

The Health Department announced this week that it could vaccinate about 2,000 people each week under current vaccine distribution plans while at least 83,000 residents are actually eligible to receive one.

MMDHD Health Officer Marcus Cheatham agreed: Distribution planning will be critical amid limited supplies.

“It’s basically all about mortality reduction,” Cheatham said. “So if we can get the people who are going to die vaccinated, the rest of us can figure it out. I want to save lives, so we have to get it into the vulnerable population.”

In Vail’s assessment, that means identifying the most “high risk” groups in the second phase of community vaccination recommendations from the CDC and the state — which called for those over 65 to begin receiving vaccines this week. Vail said she is particularly focused on those over age 70 in Ingham County.

Those over the age of 70 account for about 8% of coronavirus cases tracked in Ingham County, but 75% of deaths related to viral complications, Vail said. She also estimated there about 15,000 people over the age of 70 in Ingham County in total, with many staying inside longterm care facilities.

Residents and staff of those agencies are being vaccinated through a partnership with the federal and state governments and large pharmacy companies that can provide contracted services to those facilities. But there are still those who remain susceptible.

Like others distributing the vaccine, Ingham County has discovered that some of the vials of the Pfizer vaccine intended for just five inoculations actually contain enough vaccine for six doses.

Like others distributing the vaccine, Ingham County has discovered that some of the vials of the Pfizer vaccine intended for just five inoculations actually contain enough vaccine for six doses.

Vail also estimates that about 43,000 Ingham County residents fit into the 1b priority category in CDC guidance. With limited supplies, prioritization is essential to ensuring the right people get the first vaccines.

Both Ingham County and MMDHD are taking online requests for the vaccine from those who are 65 or older, or members of the high-risk frontline worker groups. But that doesn’t mean that they will get their doses immediately.

Vail said health risks will be weighed for each of the applicants.

“It’s not a first come first serve thing,” Vail added “It’s not like if you are a 65-year-old with zero underlying conditions and you’re going to get in line before an 85 year old with diabetes and heart disease. That’s not how this is going to work.”

Cheatham said his department has also been hamstrung by limited supplies in Clinton, Gratiot and Montcalm counties. His staff wasn’t prepared for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s announcement that vaccines would be available to seniors on Monday, Jan. 11, he explained.

“These vulnerable seniors are screaming, ‘Save my life, get me the vaccine.’ And they’re calling and telling us that we don’t know what we’re doing because we don’t actually have the capacity to vaccinate like that,” Cheatham added. “There is not enough vaccine."

More than 376,000 Americans are dead from COVID-19 and nearly 23 million cases have been reported nationally since March. Meanwhile, national health officials are facing twin problems, reports The New York Times: There only exists enough vaccine on order to cover 185 million Americans by the end of June. And some early doses are sitting unused and are now in danger of expiring.


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