Registered nurse Paula Levesque, left, administers a second Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine shot to registered nurse Giulia Heiden at Beaumont Health in Southfield, Mich., Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. Photo by Paul Sancya via AP
Registered nurse Paula Levesque, left, administers a second Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine shot to registered nurse Giulia Heiden at Beaumont Health in Southfield, Mich., Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021.

Reaching herd immunity by August is possible if Michigan almost doubles how many vaccinations it performs every day, but supply issues continue to hold the state back.

DETROIT, Mich.—If Michigan could administer 50,000 vaccines a day, herd immunity could be achieved as early as August. The infrastructure exists, the doctors are ready, but the supply shortage leaves the Mitten falling far short of that goal.

“I have the capacity to do 5,000 a day. But if I only get 1,000 doses and I cannot do anything beyond that, it means now my schedule has to be bumped,” said Dr. Mouhanad Hammami, the county’s chief health strategist. “This is our main challenge. How do we maintain a steady frequency and a steady quantity of the vaccine?”

He said he realizes state officials are confronting the same weekly supply uncertainties, but it would be helpful to not have guesswork at the local level. Each Thursday, the county orders the maximum allowable amount from Pfizer: 4,875 doses.

The following Monday, it is told its weekly allotment. Once it was 975. Another week it was 1,950. Another time it was 2,925.

Not receiving a steady amount of vaccine makes planning difficult, Hammami said.

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“We feel and we know how frustrating this is for every person that is out there,” he explained. “But we all are going to practice patience to its limits because each one of us is handling the same conditions of uncertainty. It is something that we have to still live through until there is a resolution.”

Dr. Jeffrey Fischgrund, a spinal surgeon and chief of clinical services for Beaumont Health, told The ‘Gander that this chapter in history is off to a rocky start, with too few vaccines on hand to meet the expectations of the largely eager public. He said Beaumont has administered nearly 50,000 doses of the vaccine, with more than 12,000 fully immunized.

“From a high-level logistic administrator view, we’re doing something that has never been done before,” he told The ‘Gander. “It’s very frustrating but very rewarding at the same time.”

He understands that people want to be vaccinated, but there aren’t yet enough doses. Beaumont recently entered Phase 1B of Michigan’s vaccination queue, which includes Michiganders over 65 years old. However, giving the first dose to that population alone would nearly consume the state’s entire vaccine supply in a given week.

“The vaccine is really still in a very limited supply,” he said. “Even in just our database at Beaumont Health, we have 500,000 people that are 65 and older. Last week, the state only got 60,000 doses of the vaccine.”

One of the biggest problems people like Fischgrund and Hammami face is uncertainty. Not just in the amount of vaccine received, but when it will arrive. 

“Initially, administering the vaccine at hospitals did move rather slowly as hospitals were battling staffing shortages, holiday schedules, and difficulties with how much information they were getting from the federal government about when their vaccines would arrive,” Michigan Health and Hospital Association Communications Director John Karasinski explained to The ‘Gander. “It is hard to plan an employee vaccine clinic when you don’t know the exact date the vaccine will arrive, which did result in some planned vaccine clinics being canceled because the vaccine shipment had not yet arrived.”

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Karasinski explained that while things have improved in that regard, they still are far from ideal. At present, hospitals and clinics are given a several-day window in which their doses of vaccine will arrive, which makes scheduling vaccinations a challenge even still. 

“Not having an exact date is logistically challenging,” he said. “While shipments seem to arrive within that range, they are frequently arriving on the back end of that range.”

If Michigan could reliably administer 50,000 coronavirus vaccine doses a day, it could hit its goal of inoculating 70% of people age 16 and older by August. 

Graphic by Morgaine Ford-Workman

At the current rate, about 29,000 per day, it would not finish until a year from now.

The issue is limited supplies—something Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and health officials hope can be addressed as new President Joe Biden takes the helm amid the largest vaccination effort in history and as more contagious virus variants spread.

“That’s our universal frustration,” the governor said. “We have the capacity and the plan to do a lot more vaccinations quicker. But the federal government … it’s been hard. They have not gotten us what we need.”

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Whitmer said she is confident Michigan can do 50,000 vaccinations a day but is only getting about 60,000 doses a week of the Pfizer vaccine. The other COVID-19 vaccine, from Moderna, is going to residents and staff in long-term care facilities through a federal program. The state received permission to instead send 120,000 Moderna doses to hospitals and local health departments over this past week and the coming week.

Still, it is not enough. In the first six weeks of the monumental undertaking to inoculate 5.6 million residents, Michigan has gotten 182,000 doses a week on average—52% of what is needed to administer 50,000 vaccines per day. Both vaccines are designed to be given in two doses, three or four weeks apart. That means in order to inoculate 70% of Michiganders over 16 would take 11 million doses of the vaccine. Including children under 16, that number is closer to 14 million. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.