Michigan will soon have access to more doses of the vaccine, but not nearly enough to keep up with demand. So Gov. Whitmer has a plan.
KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Despite being a major manufacturing center for the Pfizer vaccine, Michigan lags far behind other states in vaccination rate, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Even Kalamazoo, where Pfizer’s plant is located, is shockingly short on supply of the super-cold preventative. Kalamazoo’s health department explained that this was a result of limited supply sent from the state, which in turn is receiving limited supply from the federal government. But with an estimate of more than 50 million doses produced by Pfizer so far and a goal of producing over a billion doses by the end of 2021, supply shortages are only part of the problem, argues Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Whitmer’s Plan to Buy Local
Gov. Whitmer, who had been lobbying outgoing President Donald Trump for more vaccine doses, has decided instead to ask permission to buy the vaccine directly from her local Pfizer plant. She sent a letter Monday to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, explaining her request.
READ MORE: The Vaccine Is Here, and Made in Michigan
“Last week, I joined the governors of eight states to ask the Trump Administration to immediately release millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines that it is currently withholding from states. As of the date of this letter, we have not yet received a response,” Whitmer wrote in the letter emailed to Azar. “Nevertheless, we remain ready to accelerate distribution to get doses into arms. Toward that end, I am writing to request permission for the State of Michigan to make a one-time purchase of up to 100,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine directly from Pfizer to be distributed and administered consistent with CDC guidelines and the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.”
This could make a lot of difference in Kalamazoo, where the local health department has been running through its vaccine allocation almost as soon as it is received.
That’s a problem for Gov. Whitmer’s plan to reopen in-person education at the start of March. Teachers and school administrators have cautioned that their ability to reopen is strongly tied to their ability to vaccinate staff.
“The role of immunization is crucial,” said Laurie Oldford, board member of the Port Huron Area School District. “I think that teachers are a high priority, I think they should be at the top of the list, next to healthcare providers and essential frontline people.”
The Little Help Michigan Is Getting
As for why the Trump administration is holding back on the vaccination process in states like Michigan, Crain’s reports that the administration had been holding back roughly half the doses of the vaccine in an effort to ensure that everyone who got their initial dose could get their final dose three weeks later.
The Trump administration has released the second shots for people over the age of 65 as of Tuesday, however that represents a drop in the bucket. As the Detroit News explains, more than 2.5 million Michiganders are eligible for the vaccine but the state, which has yet to administer even 200,000 doses, simply doesn’t have the capacity to inoculate everyone currently eligible.
Whether or not the decision to release the withheld second doses is a response to the letter from Gov. Whitmer is unclear. Azar cited the administration feeling more comfortable with the production capacity being able to keep up with second doses. But Gov. Whitmer celebrates the step forward nonetheless, but her plans to seek permission to buy the vaccine directly haven’t changed.
“It will take all of us—the federal government, state and local leaders, health departments, and everyday Americans—to ensure everyone can get the safe and effective vaccine,” she said in a statement. “I am eager to hear back from the federal government regarding my request, and will continue to work with them and leaders everywhere to end this pandemic and save lives.”