Michigan’s early rate of inoculating the population with COVID-19 vaccines — already lagging most other states — is underreporting how many doses of the vaccine are sitting on shelves in hospitals, pharmacies and government health departments.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services acknowledged Tuesday that the 520,150 distributed vaccine doses published on its website does not include some 160,000 doses the CDC sent to CVS and Walgreens for vaccinating elderly residents in Michigan nursing homes.
Tuesday’s vaccination report showed 140,245 doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered, fewer than 27 percent of vaccines shipped to Michigan by the federal government since the mass inoculations began three weeks ago. But when the doses for nursing homes are added into the total, the percentage of people who have received the vaccine falls to 20.6 percent compared with the amount of vaccine on hand. In the state’s Tuesday report, the vaccine surplus swelled to 539,875, about 140,000 more doses than a day before.
The state health agency acknowledged the undercount in vaccines distributed Tuesday after Crain’s inquired about Monday’s MDHHS report showing 7,090 doses being administered in nursing homes, but no corresponding data showing vaccine doses being distributed to nursing homes, CVS or Walgreens. The two chain pharmacies are vaccinating residents and staff in long-term-care facilities under a partnership with the federal government.
Michigan’s struggle to quickly distribute and administer the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines comes as the CDC reports the state’s vaccination rate on a per capita basis ranks sixth-lowest in the country, ahead of Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas and Mississippi.
MDHHS spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin said the state agency plans to add vaccine doses distributed to nursing homes to its daily vaccine data dashboard “in the future and they will be broken out in their own category.”
CVS and Walgreens are handling scheduling, distribution and administration of the vaccine for residents and staff of nursing homes. The national chains began giving nursing home residents and staff Moderna’s vaccine Dec. 28.
Melissa Samuel, president of the Health Care Association of Michigan, disclosed the 160,000 figure in an interview Tuesday with Crain’s.
“We were told there were about 160,000 or more doses that went to CVS and Walgreens,” Samuel said. “The goal by the state, CVS and Walgreens is to get the first round of doses completed in three weeks. The first week was slowed down a bit by the holiday week. We will ramp up quickly.”
Vaccinations in nursing homes will have to accelerate rapidly to get all 160,000 doses administered within three weeks. Right now, CVS and Walgreens are administering about 1,000 doses a day in Michigan’s nursing homes.
Tuesday’s state vaccination report showed the number of vaccines administered in nursing homes and other long-term facilities had grown by 911 to 8,006. That amounts to 5 percent of the vaccine designated for nursing homes having been utilized as of Monday. Nursing homes have been prioritized for the vaccine because they have been linked to 38.6 percent of Michigan’s 12,867 COVID-19 deaths and 7.6 percent of the half-million infections.
HCAM, which represents about 440 nursing homes and assisted living facilities, secured state and federal approval to have just Moderna COVID-19 vaccines allocated for its members’ facilities. Pfizer’s vaccine requires ultra-cold freezers, equipment that hospitals and county health department stocked up on ahead of the FDA’s approval last month of the two COVID-19 vaccines.
“It was a very good decision by the state,” Samuel said. “We need the most vulnerable population vaccinated.”
CVS and Walgreens are scheduling all nursing homes in the state for in-house vaccination clinics, Samuel said.
“I haven’t heard any problems with the scheduling or dosing.” Samuel said. “Other states have had problems, but not aware of any here.”
Representatives for CVS and Walgreens did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Samuel didn’t have any percentages of residents or staff being vaccinated.
“My sense right now is the percentage of residents receiving doses is very high. I am not surprised based on who they are and where they are. They want assurances of connecting with family,” she said. “The staff, some are reticent to get the vaccinations. It is a wait-and-see approach. So those percentages are lower than residents.”
Samuel said the big challenge right now is to increase education for residents and staff so they understand the vaccines are safe and effective.
“I feel comfortable that the process is working and the clinics have been scheduled and we will get those percentages up,” she said.