Stateside: Answering your questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Michiganders have a lot on their minds these days. But one of the most pressing issues we’re all wondering about is the COVID-19 vaccine. Here, we'll answer your questions about the vaccination process, with help from some professionals in the know.
At the time this show aired, the state of Michigan has vaccinated over 1.6 million people and is in Phases 1B and 1C of the distribution process, says the state’s chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. That means people over the age of 65, as well as some frontline workers, are eligible to receive a vaccine. Here’s what you should know:
How much vaccine does the state of Michigan have right now?
Khaldun says there’s been a steady increase in vaccine doses arriving in Michigan each week since President Joe Biden took office. But, she adds, there’s still not enough vaccine for everyone who wants one to get one right now.
“Our single biggest challenge at this point is the amount of vaccines that are currently available to the state,” she said.
Why is predictability in vaccine dosage numbers important?
The amount of doses the state and communities across the state are getting varies from week to week. Dr. Mouhanad Hammami, Wayne County’s chief health strategist, says this can be very difficult for providers, as they may plan to carry out 10,000 vaccinations in a week, but end up only receiving 5,000 doses. It’s like planning a dinner party for 10 people but only having enough food for five, Hammami says.
“Till now, I cannot tell you that there were two weeks in a row that we got exactly the same amount,” Hammami said. “We welcome any amount that we get, but again, this is the challenge that we are going to have in preparation.”
This can cause a logistical nightmare where appointments have to be rescheduled and people can get upset.
I’m eligible for a vaccine, but I don’t know how to get one. What should I do?
Khaldun recommends that anyone looking for information on how to get a vaccine should visit the state’s website, which shows you how to connect with your local health department.
She told Stateside that people without access to a computer or the internet can call 2-1-1 for guidance. The state’s COVID-19 hotline, 888-535-6136, is staffed Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. But some people who have tried the number have reported difficulty getting through, so you may need to wait on hold for a while. You can also email COVID19@michigan.gov with questions about COVID-19.
What happens if I miss / have to reschedule my second dose appointment?
According to the CDC, Hammami says, the second dose is recommended three weeks — 21 days — after the first dose. There is a grace period of four days on either end. If you go longer than 25 days after your first vaccine, Hammami recommends still getting your second shot.
"Let’s say somebody missed it by 10 days, then it’s still better to get the second dose after 10 days than not to get it at all,” Hammami says. “So far the early studies and early research has not shown that you need to restart from scratch because you’ve already built some antibodies and now you’re getting the second dose.”
Why might the state give County X more doses of the vaccine than County Y?
Khaldun, who was recently asked to join President Biden’s new COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, says the state is focused on equity as part of its vaccine prioritization process. When the state receives new doses each week from the federal government, health officials consider what phase we’re in, as well as something else: social vulnerability in each county.
The Social Vulnerability Index is a tool developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that considers a number of factors — like disability or language status, educational attainment, race and ethnicity, age of a household, and more — to determine how at-risk a particular population might be.
“What's interesting is that [the Social Vulnerability Index] also aligns with the severity of COVID-19, as far as cases and deaths in the state as well. So we add that additional factor to be able to distribute vaccines across the entire state,” said Khaldun. “We want there to be no disparities across the state when it comes to social vulnerability index, race, ethnicity — everyone in this state who wants a vaccine will be able to get one.”
Why aren’t adults with developmental and physical disabilities being prioritized for vaccination?
Studies show that some people with developmental or physical disabilities have a greater risk of contracting COVID-19 or developing complications from the virus. Khaldun says there isn’t enough vaccine in the state yet to make it available to everyone who might be high-risk.
“As it comes to our priority groups, I'll tell you, I wish everyone in the entire state — particularly our highest-risk, those who have underlying medical conditions, those who have disabilities — I, as well, want everyone to be able to get a vaccine as quickly as possible,” she said.
What’s the status of new variants of the COVID-19 virus in Michigan?
Khaldun says the COVID-19 case rate in Michigan has been decreasing for the past five weeks. But there are new strains of the virus present in the state, including the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first discovered in the United Kingdom and health officials say spreads faster. Khaldun notes that Michigan and its state lab are national leaders when it comes to sequencing for new variants of the virus.
“We have identified over 60 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant across the state. We continue to actively, every week, perform that sequencing so we can identify cases, and then we support our local health departments and others in really implementing an aggressive public health strategy to prevent spread,” she said. “That means aggressive contact tracing, isolation, and increased testing in places where we are seeing the new variants.”
I got my second dose of the vaccine. Now can I go out without a mask, can I go visit my family?
The short, not-so-sweet answer? No. At least not yet.
“Until everybody that is at risk is protected, we would still need to practice the safe measures that we know work,” said Dr. Hammami, Wayne County’s chief health strategist. “So, we still have to wear masks, we still have to maintain physical distancing, we still need to practice the common sense of washing hands and not being around people who are vulnerable or at risk.”
Dr. Hammami cautions against “irrational exuberance,” where people throw caution to the wind just because they personally aren’t at risk of serious infection. He recommends people continue to get regularly tested, something that has dropped off as people are hopeful for the vaccine.
Can those vaccinated infect others?
In tandem with the previous question. Yes.
“The thing to keep in mind here is that vaccines don’t fully protect you against infection, even if they keep you from getting sick,” says Detroit Free Press health reporter Kristen Shamus. “For that reason, a vaccinated person can unknowingly carry it and spread it.”
It’s been documented with other diseases that being vaccinated doesn’t stop the spread necessarily, which is why it’s important to keep practicing safety measures until the majority of people are vaccinated.
When will vaccines be approved for kids?
Not just yet. Right now, the Pfizer vaccine is approved for anyone 16 and up, and the Moderna is approved for people 18 and over. But Hammami says there is at least one study currently taking place that’s working to understand the effects of these vaccines in children.
“It's producing very good results,” he said. “As soon as this study is done and some of the preliminary evaluation is submitted, then I do suspect that those two vaccines are going to be approved to be used in children.”
Shamus adds that some health experts are eager to start vaccinations for kids to protect against the rare but serious condition associated with COVID-19, Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children.
Are pharmacies providing vaccines?
The state of Michigan partnered with pharmacies to help with the early stages of the vaccine administration process in long-term care facilities, and now pharmacies are starting to offer appointments to people who are currently eligible for the vaccine, says Shamus.
“Rite Aid just was added to the pharmacy partnership in the state and has begun offering vaccines, along with Meijer Pharmacy. And I believe that other pharmacies are also going to be joining in these vaccination efforts.”
Dr. Hammami notes that there’s no cost for the vaccine.
"When we refer to private pharmacies or private healthcare systems, this vaccine is provided free of charge by the federal government. No one is being charged for it, regardless of whether they have insurance or not,” he said. “Your qualifying to get the vaccine should not be dependent on whether you are a patient of a health system or whether you are a customer of that pharmacy.”
Is proof of citizenship required to get a vaccine?
Hammami says that if you get a vaccine in Wayne County, you do not have to show proof of citizenship. You’ll be asked to share a state-issued ID or driver’s license to confirm your age and basic information.
Shamus adds that some federal health centers and local organizations are working to provide alternate, community-based vaccine locations.
“I spoke to a woman earlier this week who runs a community center in southwest Detroit, and she told me that they are getting some vaccine doses to immunize undocumented immigrants who don't have ID and can't produce a driver's license. And those are things that are being considered as the state is expanding access to the vaccine,” Shamus said.
Will I need proof of vaccination in order to travel internationally?
We don’t know just yet. But it’s a hot topic of conversation right now among government leaders and the health and travel industries, especially as Denmark recently announced plans for a “digital passport” indicating its citizens’ vaccination status, says Shamus.
“When President Biden took office, one of his executive orders urged government agencies to consider whether it's feasible to create a digital coronavirus vaccine certificate or a document,” said Shamus. “So, while I haven't read anything that suggests that it's definitely going to happen in the United States, it sounds as if we're exploring this possibility.”
When will it be my turn?
Since the vaccine is in such short supply, the state has had to adopt a “rationing logic,” according to Dr. Hammami, where the most vulnerable populations go first. He highlights that a conservative estimate puts “regular” people at eligibility at some point in the summer.
Although the state is planning on receiving something like a 16% increase in doses, according to the state’s chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, there’s still a short supply.
Detroit Free Press’ Kristen Shamus says it’s important to think about the many groups within the state and what distribution means.
“The thing that people have to remember is that those doses have to be spread out,” she said. “So they have to go to the local health departments, they have to go to hospitals, they have to go to tribal communities, to pharmacies.”
When will it get better?
This question has been asked from the beginning of the pandemic. While things are constantly changing and officials are taking things week by week, the light at the end of the tunnel seems to be a little brighter.
“We have, in a very short period of time, accomplished a lot, which makes me optimistic in terms of what we can do going down the road,” said Dr. Hammami.
He brought up Wayne County, which was hit hardest by the pandemic and where all 20,000 teachers were vaccinated and around a quarter of seniors have received the vaccine.
Shamus is looking ahead. She highlighted that there are already two safe and effective vaccines on the market with more on the way. And while it may take months for some to get their vaccine, it’s still coming.
“We’re going to get there and then it will be a sort of changing of mindsets and a changing our perspective about how we manage this virus, which will go from a pandemic to an endemic in our society.” She says. “It’s going to be around — we can’t completely eliminate COVID completely from the face of the earth, it will be here — but it will be much more manageable.”
This post was written by Stateside production assistants Olive Scott and Nell Ovitt.