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May 13, 2021

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Doubling Michigan’s vaccine supply could prevent 1,200 deaths, model suggests


Michigan’s fourth wave of coronavirus is reaching crisis levels with hospitals filling up and COVID-19 cases doubling over the past week. 

It’s prompted some experts to suggest the state should receive a ‘surge’ of vaccines far greater than the allotments it is currently getting.  

Doubling the number of doses sent to the Great Lakes state weekly could prevent up to 1,200 COVID-19 deaths, one University of California , Berkeley model suggests.

But so far, the Biden administration is sticking to its strategy of allocating Covid vaccine doses based mostly on states’ populations, rather than based upon the more complex calculus of the urgency of states’ Covid infection, hospitalization and death trends.   

When asked about altering the federal government’s vaccine allocation plan during a Wednesday press briefing, senior White House Covid adviser Andy Slavitt said: ‘By and large, we are still allocating vaccines based upon population.’  

He added that ‘nothing is off the table,’ and said that the federal government is not ‘sitting back and managing this pandemic and the vaccination program according to some formula.’ 

Both Slavitt and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director insisted that they are in contact with states, including Michigan, to offer support via testing capacity and personnel, but did not signal any immediate intent to shift the allocation strategy, despite some experts’ suggestions that a change is in order. 

‘I would be surging a lot of vaccines to Michigan right now,’ Dr Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health told Stat News.  

Meanwhile, states will get a smaller supply of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine in the coming weeks after a disastrous error at a contract plant ruined 15 million doses, and officials in Washington state claim they will get fewer doses than they were told to expect next week. 

Doubling the number of doses sent to the Great Lakes state weekly could prevent up to 1,200 COVID-19 deaths (green), one University of California, Berkeley model suggests. Combining a vaccine surge supply and putting reopenings on pause could prevent 2,500 deaths (orange) 

Senior White House Covid adviser Andy Slavitt said: 'By and large, we are still allocating vaccines based upon population,' rather than adjusting allocations to account for case surges like Michigan's

Senior White House Covid adviser Andy Slavitt said: ‘By and large, we are still allocating vaccines based upon population,’ rather than adjusting allocations to account for case surges like Michigan’s 

A Baltimore, Maryland facility making Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine mixed up an ingredient for it with one intended for the AstraZeneca vaccine (which was also being manufactured there at the time), ruining a batch of 15 million doses of the J&J shot. 

Comments about the decreased supply Wednesday come as state health officials prepare to open vaccine eligibility on April 15 to everyone age 16 and over, The Seattle Times reported. 

Taken together, the series of fumbles raise questions about how well federal U.S. officials are responding in real-time to the constant changes of the pandemic.  

On the whole, the U.S. is on track for half of American adults to have had at least a first dose by the weekend. 

To date, the U.S. has administered nearly 171.5 million doses, covering a third of Americans with one or more doses and fully vaccinating 26.5 percent of Americans. 

At the pace of about three million shots given on an average day, the vaccination campaign is rolling full steam-ahead on the national level. 

Michigan continues to lead the country in COVID-19 cases, recording 9,369 on Wednesday, which is a 101% increase from two weeks ago

Michigan continues to lead the country in COVID-19 cases, recording 9,369 on Wednesday, which is a 101% increase from two weeks ago 

A recent model from Michigan Medicine predicts that as early as April 12, a recored 4,522 Michiganders could be hospitalized with COVID-19

A recent model from Michigan Medicine predicts that as early as April 12, a recored 4,522 Michiganders could be hospitalized with COVID-19

And it is likely helping to keep surges at bay in much of the nation, as states reopen. 

But the surge is not being kept at bay in Michigan. 

The state continues to lead the country in COVID-19 cases, recording 9,369 on Wednesday – the highest total in the U.S. and a 101 percent increase from two weeks ago.

The Great Lake State also leads the nation in the number of inpatient hospital and ICU beds being used to treat coronavirus patients.

Currently, 11.9 percent of inpatient beds are full, which marks a more than 200 percent increase since late February.

Michigan Live reported that the state is currently treating 3,595 patients with COVID-19, a 32 percent increase from one week ago and a 71 percent increase from one month month ago.  

‘You know, we’re talking to our hospitals every single day just to check in, see what the rates are, see if they’re getting concerned,’ Whitmer said on Wednesday, according to Michigan Live. 

‘At this juncture…we do have hospitalizations that have gone up but they’re nothing like what we saw last spring, when we were so worried about our health system collapsing.’

However, a recent model from Michigan Medicine predicts that as early as April 12, 4,522 Michiganders could be hospitalized with COVID-19, reported Michigan Live.

That would be a record high figure, even higher than the 4,365 patients hospitalized during the peak of the April 2020 surge.

Next week, the state is slated to get more than 501,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines – inclusive of first and second doses of Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines as well as a shipment of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose shot. 

Over the course of the rollout, Michigan has been allocated about 68,317 doses per 100,000 people, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. 

That’s considerably fewer than states like Oklahoma, South Dakota and Connecticut, which are each receiving more than 70,000 doses per 100,000 people. 

And more than 90,000 doses have been delivered to Alaska per 100,000 residents. 

Yet Michigan is seeing 3.5 times more new COVID-19 cases per its population compared to South Dakota.  

An unknown factor that could be at play is the vaccine dose orders submitted to the federal government by states. 

Simply put, if a state like Michigan ordered fewer doses per 100,000 people than a state like South Dakota, the federal government will not and is not obligated to send more than the number of doses specified in the order.  

White House officials however have not signaled any intention of changing the allocation formula on this end to shift away from a population basis any time soon. 

‘Clearly we will get to a place where more targeted strategies will work, but right now I would commit to you that we’re doing both,’ said Slavitt during a Wednesday White House press briefing. 

Shipping a ‘vaccine surge’ to Michigan would likely prevent thousands of Covid case, hospitalizations and deaths, according to modeling by Joshua Schwab, a researchers at UC Berkeley. 

His model suggests that doubling the number of vaccine doses sent to Michigan in the coming weeks could reduce hospitalizations by about 10,000 and spare about 1,200 lives. 

Combining a vaccine surge with a ‘pause’ on Michigan’s reopening could cut hospital admissions by 23,000 and deaths by 2,500 between April 3 to July 1, he estimates. 

But Michigan Governor Whitmer does not appear to have any intent to roll back her state’s reopening, and the federal government isn’t promising any more vaccine doses.  

It’s not clear whether Michigan’s vaccine supply has been cut since the 15 million Johnson & Johnson doses were ruined at the disastrous Emergent BioSolutions incident. 

But at least one state has seen its supply be curbed.  

Washington health officials had expected the state to receive at least 600,000 doses of vaccine through state and federal programs for each week in April, but now Washington state expects deliveries of at least 500,000 doses next week. 

The federal government maintains the expected supply boost will come, but the timeline is not yet clear.

‘The three-week forecast is a little bit lower than we hoped for,’ said SheAnne Allen, the COVID-19 vaccine director for the Washington State Department of Health. ‘These are estimates, they do change …’

About 15 million doses were ruined after employees for a contract manufacturer to Johnson & Johnson mixed ingredients incorrectly. 

The problem was discovered before any bad doses were shipped and it was widely reported in new outlets last week.

Next week, about 1.3 million people will join an estimated five million Washingtonians already eligible for vaccine.

With more people becoming eligible, State Health Secretary Dr Umair Shah said he hoped that vaccine supply would rise in May, if not later in April ‘so we can match that demand.’

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