As it became clear the assistance states counted on from the federal government weren’t coming, Michigan diagnosed its first case of the more infectious B.1.1.7 strain of COVID.
YPSILANTI, Mich.—The Washtenaw County Health Department was not able to hold its vaccination clinic Tuesday, and that couldn’t be happening at a worse time for the southeast Michigan college communities of Washtenaw.
“Unfortunately, we need to postpone our COVID-19 vaccine clinic scheduled for Tuesday, January 19,” the Health Department announced. “We haven’t received enough vaccines to operate on this date.”
This comes after a rough weekend in Michigan’s battle against the coronavirus. Over the weekend,Washtenaw diagnosed the state’s first case of the new strain from the United Kingdom.
A New COVID Coming from London
Someone who had traveled to London returned with the new variant, called B.1.1.7. The unnamed woman is the only confirmed case of the new strain, but B.1.1.7 is not easily identified separate from the coronavirus that Michiganders have endured for nearly a year.
Telling the difference requires specialized equipment to unwind and sequence the virus’ genetic makeup and note the small differences that make B.1.1.7 so much more infectious than the normal COVID-19 virus, Sparrow Hospital’s Dr. James Richard explained to WLNS.
Richard advised Michiganders to get vaccinated as soon as possible, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expect the more infectious B.1.1.7 to become the more dominant strain in the United States by March. Thankfully, Richard explained, the vaccine for the original strain also works for B.1.1.7. Vaccination could help offset the strain on the health system that a more infectious coronavirus could cause, and would save lives by doing so.
“ If too many people all get sick at the same time, the health care system can’t adequately take care of too many people who are seriously ill,” Richard explained.
That is the central purpose behind flattening the curve, to reduce the strain on hospitals. Those hospitals, not overburdened with more patients than they have resources to treat, would have the means to handle their patient volume. Vaccination could help slow the virus’ spread as it’s poised to catch fire once again thanks to B.1.1.7. But therein lies the other bad news for Michigan.
No New Vaccines Coming from Washington
On Jan. 13, The ‘Gander cited that the Trump Administration had been stockpiling half the doses it receives to ensure people get the second inoculation they need for immunization. But, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar announced that those doses would be released to states. By the end of the week, it was apparent Azar would not be releasing any additional vaccines.
“Last night, I received disturbing news, confirmed to me directly by General Perna of Operation Warp Speed: States will not be receiving increased shipments of vaccines from the national stockpile next week because there is no federal reserve of doses,” tweeted Gov. Kate Brown (D-Ore.), announcing to the world that the stockpile Azar was going to release didn’t exist. “I am demanding answers from the Trump Administration. I am shocked and appalled that they have set an expectation on which they could not deliver, with such grave consequences.”
Other governors from across the nation, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, followed suit and called the nonexistence of the stockpile dishonesty on Azar’s part.
“The Trump Administration has not only botched the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, but also misled the American people,” Gov. Whitmer tweeted. “After finally agreeing to release what remained of the federal vaccine reserve, we found out the truth—there isn’t one.”
Michigan has administered just under 500,000 doses of the vaccine,as of Jan. 17, the most recent reporting by the state. In order to achieve herd immunity, Michigan has to administer 14 million doses. The slow, largely botched rollout of the vaccine has left Michigan struggling to make pace while the stakes rise dramatically thanks to B.1.1.7.
Michigan is seeking to get students back in the classroom and reopen restaurants. When it comes to those goals, it’s a race between vaccination and the rise of the new strain of the virus. And the vaccination campaign squandered its head start, thanks to decades of federal mismanagement. The same mismanagement governors now accuse Azar of furthering.
“Approximately 50,000 public health jobs have been cut over the past decade, and funding for state and local public health agencies has been regularly raided by Republicans and Democrats alike,” Kalamazoo-based public health expert Dr. Matt Longjohn explained to The ‘Gander. “The folks that are left are doing the work of many, under a lot of pressure, with absolute dedication, but with limited resources and little to no coordination from an inept federal political leadership.”
KEEP UP TO DATE: The Countdown: Tracking the Vaccine Rollout and the End of COVID
It remains to be seen how things will change in the first 100 days of the new administration, where President-elect Joe Biden has set a goal of 100 million vaccinations resulting in 50 million immunized Americans. A number of governors, led by Gov. Whitmer, have proposed a stopgap solution of letting states buy vaccines directly from the pharmaceutical companies.
“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,” Gov. Whitmer 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.”