With COVID-19 still raging in America, according to nationwide case reports there are over 27 million positive cases and nearly 470,000 deaths, numbers that we never thought to reach. And with new strains popping up locally, many Black residents might be wondering when they can roll up their sleeves and receive the COVID-19 vaccine. That is if they even want it or can readily receive it when it is their turn.
Nationwide reports are stating that Black Americans are receiving the COVID-19 vaccine at a lower rate than their white counterparts. It’s an issue that is not so black and white. This is partly due to a lack of access to the vaccine and also due to not wanting to receive it because of the historical mistrust between Black communities and the medical field.
A CNN analysis reports from 14 states advised that vaccine coverage is twice as high among whites on average than it is among Blacks and Latinos. On average, more than 4 percent of the white population has received a COVID-19 vaccine, about 2.3 times higher than the Black population. To note, Blacks and Latinos are dying of COVID-19 at three times the rate of whites succumbing to the virus. These groups are also being hospitalized at a rate four times higher, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Michigan health officials are trying to bridge that gap through education and information.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), recently testified before the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee about Michigan’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts, federal needs and the state’s work to expedite the administration of vaccines without “compromising equity.”
“Since the emergence of COVID-19 just over a year ago, the world has eagerly awaited a vaccine that could help to end this unprecedented pandemic,” Khaldun said in a press release. “Now, with two safe and effective vaccines and additional vaccines on the horizon, Michigan is working to distribute the vaccine quickly, efficiently and equitably to residents across the state. Like many other states, Michigan’s single biggest challenge with the vaccine rollout has been the limited supply of vaccine available week to week and the lack of a national federal strategy until now. Despite this, Michigan has made significant strides in implementing our vaccination strategy.”
Khaldun outlined the comprehensive vaccination strategy Michigan launched, with goals including having:
- 70 percent of Michiganders age 16 and older get vaccinated as quickly as possible.
- 90 percent of received vaccines be administered within seven days.
- 95 percent of people get their second dose of vaccine within the expected time frame.
- No disparity exists in vaccination rates across racial and ethnic groups or by social vulnerability index.
- No one drives more than 20 minutes to reach a vaccination site.
Khaldun testified alongside physicians and public health nationwide as part of a hearing entitled, “No Time to Lose: Solutions to Increase COVID-19 Vaccinations in the States.”
She said that while these vaccines were developed in less than a year, “they were built upon decades of scientific research” with rigorous testing.
“I am proud of the work of our state and local health departments and health care systems who have worked tirelessly to deliver vaccines while also fighting to bring down the curve,” she said.
A copy of Khaldun’s full testimony is available on the MDHHS website.
On February 10, Khaldun was also tapped as a member of the Biden-Harris COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force which will help address pandemic-related inequities.
The 12-member task force ranges in diversity on all levels and will issue recommendations to help inform the COVID-19 response and recovery. This includes recommendations on the equitable allocation of COVID-19 resources and relief funds, according to a press release.
The state’s own Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities. created per Executive Order 2020-55, also acts in an advisory role but reports to Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The task force studies the causes of racial disparities and recommends actions to address the historical and systemic inequities.
Lynn Sutfin, public information officer of MDHHS, told The Michigan Chronicle that to prepare for the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine and improve the system overall, race and ethnicity information was added as a data field to data feeds flowing into the Michigan Care Improvement Registry (MCIR). It then collects immunization information from various providers into an immunization record allowing providers to view up-to-date patient immunization history.
“An MDHHS development team is currently making modifications to support hand entry of race and ethnicity data in MCIR, as well as linking additional data sets to MCIR data, to improve the data we have,” Sutfin said.
Sutfin added that initial reports indicate Michigan’s data will be similar to states across the nation.
“Both the city of Detroit and the county of Genesee have vaccination rates per 100,000 population that are below the state rate,” she said. “Making use of federal guidelines, the first vaccination phase in Michigan targeted paid and unpaid health care workers, which, given the disparities in the healthcare worker field, will disadvantage areas with higher African American residents.”
Sutfin added that the data is not yet published on which ethnic groups have the vaccine.
“This is why the state is using an equity lens in allocation strategy, including providing additional doses outside the allocation strategy to enable areas at disadvantage to catch up in vaccination. We plan to begin reporting this information in the near future,” she said.
Also, Mobile Strike Teams will be deployed to assist with vaccinations of those populations that might not be easily able to go to a vaccination site.
In its vaccination strategy, MDHHS also launched a statewide paid media campaign to inform Michiganders about the COVID-19 vaccine in response to research about attitudes toward the vaccine and to address vaccine hesitancy among Michigan residents.
The Protect Michigan Commission, composed of a diverse group of leaders from across the state, is also working to ensure that every Michigan resident has information on the COVID-19 vaccine. Whitmer announced appointments to the commission in late January and the group hosted their first meeting then, highlighting the state’s vaccine strategy.
Established by Executive Order 2020-193, the commission serves as an advisory group to Whitmer and the MDHHS.
“The work of the bipartisan Protect Michigan Commission will help Michigan reach its goal of 50,000 shots in arms per day and help ensure all Michiganders have a plan to get their vaccine once it is their turn,” said Whitmer.
The bi-partisan commission plans to create an outreach strategy and submit a final report to Whitmer by Dec. 31, 2021, the release added. More information about the commission is available by finding MDHHS – Protect Michigan Commission online.
Dr. James Grant, senior vice president and chief medical officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) told The Michigan Chronicle that some communities across the nation are seeing a disparity in terms of access to the vaccine.
“Here in Michigan, we are seeing focused efforts from the state of Michigan as well as within local communities like the City of Detroit to ensure that there is equity in access to the vaccine,” he said.
He added that while he’s not sure society will ever truly get back to pre-COVID times, he sees a glimmer of hope when enough people are vaccinated.
“This will help decrease transmission of the disease, decrease the severity of cases that are created, and will help to relieve the burden on the health care system caused by excessive numbers of COVID cases,” he said.
Find more information at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus. To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine, visit Michigan.gov/COVIDVaccine.