As Michigan reels from a deluge of new coronavirus cases, some public health experts are pressing the Biden administration to reconsider its allocation strategy for COVID-19 vaccines, urging the administration to distribute more doses to states that have been particularly hard-hit by the virus in recent weeks.
“The vaccine is sitting on shelves right now, or is designated to go on shelves, and it could be used in places like Michigan,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told TPM.
“Why not offer a solution?” Adalja added. He suggested that “buffer doses,” a safety net of vaccine doses set aside by some states, could be immediately allocated to states like Michigan and others being battered by the virus to mitigate the looming stress on hospitals.
“The buffer that those states have could be used to help states that have higher hospitalizations right now,” he said, adding: “There is an ability to bend the curve, even if not immediately.”
Michigan Reps. Fred Upton (R) and Debbie Dingell (D), pulling from the expertise of those like Adalja, have made similar pleas.
In a letter urging Biden on Thursday to increase the state’s allocation to address that surge — which hit 7,819 new cases on Thursday, the pair wrote: “Surging additional vaccines into Michigan and other hard-hit areas is consistent with guidance from public health experts. Deploying additional vaccine doses in this manner will allow the federal government to make the most effective use of its current vaccine supply and bring us closer to an end of the pandemic.”
“With this in mind, we are requesting an increased allocation of COVID-19 vaccines to Michigan, which will help the state address the surge in cases and hospitalizations in recent days,” they added.
In spite of these criticisms, the Biden administration has said — at least for now — that it will be sticking to a vaccine-allocation strategy that largely dispenses doses to states and territories based on their population rather than in accord with virus-related hospitalizations or how many people are getting infected.
White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients defended the administration’s position on its vaccine distribution program on Friday.
“This pandemic has hit every state and every county hard, thousands of people —hundred of thousands of people — died and more are dying each day and there are tens of millions of people across the country in each and every state and county who have not yet been vaccinated,” Zients said during a briefing on Friday morning.
“The fair and equitable way to distribute the vaccine is based in the adult population by state, tribe and territory. Thats how it’s been done. And we will continue to do so.”
Zients outlined efforts by the Biden administration to help states dole out their allocated doses more effectively and drive testing capacity while touting the distribution of 90 million vaccine doses to states across the country in the past three weeks.
The comments reiterated the White House’s firm and as-yet unchanging stance on its allocation program. The White House said on Friday that while it will be increasing federal resources to support vaccinations, testing and therapeutics, it will not be surging vaccines to states like Michigan which has been clobbered in recent weeks by a spike in fresh cases.
In recent days, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, too, has advocated amid recommendations by some public health experts to use adjusted vaccine allocation as a mitigation tool.
During a press conference on Friday, Whitmer confirmed that she had asked Biden to send more vaccine doses to Michigan, making a particular request for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one shot.
“I made the case for a surge strategy,” she said. “At this point, that’s not being deployed, but I am not giving up.”