COVID-19 vaccines may not be available for Michigan's general public until fall

The Michigan Health Department is laying out a new plan to increase COVID-19 vaccines in the state but also cautions that the vaccine won't be available for the general public until much later in the year than originally expected.

The MDHHS held a press conference Friday, one day after Governor Gretchen Whitmer said the state is making progress in administering the vaccines and has given out 1 million so far. But that's still a far cry from where health officials say we need to be.

State health officials provided a calendar on Friday that shows the current allotment of vaccines coming into the state. It also shows the general public won't start getting vaccines until the fall and it could take until the end of the year before the goal of vaccinating 70% of all Michiganders is reached.

"We are still in the teeth of this pandemic. In fact, January was the single deadliest month of the pandemic. We lost nearly 100-thousand lives," said President Joe Biden.

The Biden administration is promising increased production of vaccines, which could move the timeline up.

"As we get more vaccines, I do expect that calendar to change and for populations to be able to be vaccinated sooner," said MDHHS Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun.

Health officials are trying to make sure there are no barriers to access in rural or urban communities, Khaldun said, but there could still be issues of people not trusting the vaccine or the government.

"We know that Black and brown communities across the country and here in Michigan are more hesitant to take the vaccine," said Khaldun. "The United States history and the fact that there's been experimentation on Black and brown communities and the fact that there still exists racial implicit and explicit bias in our healthcare system today."

They also said their goal is to ensure no one has to travel more than 20 minutes for the vaccine in the pandemic and that each of nine health care regions has at least one 24/7 mass vaccination site. Another priority is to allocate additional doses to areas based on factors such as poverty, lack of transportation and crowded housing.

It "correlates extremely closely with the communities that were hardest hit by COVID-19 in the spring," said Hertel.

The city of Detroit, for instance, was an early hot spot. Racial disparities have diminished since, but Detroit still has seen a disproportionate death toll. So have Michigan's Black residents, who comprise 14% of the population but account for 22% of 15,700-plus confirmed or probable deaths tied to the virus.

State health officials say they are working to address equitable access to the vaccine. Senior citizens or those without internet access should call 211 to make an appointment or get on a waiting list. Health officials say look for more community vaccination sites in the coming weeks and months to help the underserved and most vulnerable.

Health officials say there is also hope that another vaccine could soon be on the way as Johnson & Johnson has applied for emergency use approval. This one is only one dose and doesn't need to be stored in extremely cold temperatures as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.