Duggan: Detroit needs to vaccinate 5,000 people a day for COVID-19

When a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, Detroit will be one of the first cities to begin distributing the treatment to citizens.

After experiencing one of the worst infection and death rates in the U.S. during the initial coronavirus outbreak, Detroit will have the opportunity to be among the first areas to innoculate residents.

But buyer beware, the obstacles to rolling out the country's first vaccine distributions will be steep, Mayor Mike Duggan said on Sunday.

"To get the vaccinations out, we're going to have to vaccine 5,000 a day just in Detroit. And this country is not yet geared up," Duggan said in an interview on Meet the Press, "and so to me, people saying vaccines are coming - vaccines are coming, we haven't begun to address what it's going to take to actually inject people with the vaccine."

Duggan said health care workers would be the first to get vaccinated, followed by first responders like emergency medical services, police, and firefighters. Eventually, priority will be for those 65 and up.

Beyond the initial challenge of just convincing people the vaccine is safe, there are also potential pitfalls in the distribution and storage of the vaccine. Both companies that have approved their own treatments say their versions will require at least sub-zero Celsius temperature storage.

Henry Ford Health Systems, which has helped run trials for Moderna, one of the two companies that have requested emergency authorization for their own vaccine, has been approved to distribute the vaccine. It is among the only in the country to be approved.

In preparation for the eventual approval, the hospital has installed industrial refrigerators at its hospitals as it readies to ship out doses.

Even if public perception turns and supply chains run smoothly, the sheer volume of vaccines that will need to be produced could mean injections will be administered for at least the next couple of years.

Detroit, which set up one of the first drive-thru testing lines in the early spring, paid witness to how hard it can be to screen so many people.

"We set up the biggest and most efficient drive-thru testing site in the Midwest at the fairgrounds. We were testing 1,000 to 1,200 people a day and all summer and into the fall," Duggan said. 

"You think about the city of Detroit with 700,000 people - if you were able to vaccinate 5,000 a day, you're still talking three or four months," he later added.

The soonest a vaccine could start being administered is Dec. 12. Pfizer, the first company to reach a 90% effectiveness rate in mitigating the coronavirus's worst symptoms, applied for emergency approval last week. Moderna's approval could come around Dec. 20.

Among the first batch of 6.4 million doses that Pfizer says it can ship before the end of the year, Michigan could get several hundred thousand. 

While Detroit's infection rate has fallen below that of the surrounding suburban counties, Michigan is still dealing with one of the country's worst outbreaks during its second surge. On Sunday, the state confirmed another 8,080 cases.