Thousands of Michigan health workers are turning down COVID vaccines

By Robin Erb, Mike Wilkinson

Thousands of health care workers across Michigan who would be first in line for a coronavirus vaccine are declining to take it, potentially slowing efforts to curb a pandemic that has killed over 352,000 nationally and more than 12,600 in Michigan.

In Wayne County, just over half of first responders agreed to take a COVID vaccine, with roughly 600 of 1,600 declining, a county spokesperson told Bridge Michigan on Monday.

In Ingham County, it’s not precisely clear how many hospitals and emergency workers have declined the vaccine. But based on a survey among health department staff and national surveys, it appears that more than 1 in 3 health workers are declining the coronavirus vaccine for now, according to Linda Vail, the county’s health officer.

Hesitancy among workers in healthcare settings may help explain why Michigan has had one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the country.

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As of midday Monday, just under 100,000 people in Michigan have been given the first dose of the two-stage vaccine, or 992 people for every 100,000. Only six other states had a lower rate of vaccinations — North Carolina, Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Kansas, according to data from the federal government.

Nationally, the rate is 1,390 vaccinations per 100,000 — or 40 percent higher than the Michigan rate. (Monday evening the state updated its vaccination data to show nearly 129,000 doses had been administered but updated comparisons with other states were not immediately available.)

Though surveys in recent months underscored uncertainty about the vaccine among much of the public, health leaders told Bridge they found it disheartening to see reluctance among workers within their industry.

“There were some [EMS] departments that everybody said, ‘We will come and take it,’” Dr. Mouhanad Hammami, chief health strategist at the Wayne County Department of Health, Veterans & Community Wellness, told Bridge.

Indeed, some EMS units sent more than a dozen workers in a truck for vaccines. “But then you have, maybe in a company, 25 EMS workers and only two said, ‘We want the vaccine.’ ”

Health care workers, he said, are “privileged to be amongst the first” to get the vaccine, and presumably “would be more informed about … a vaccine trial and have a little bit more trust.”

A spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said there have been “no significant obstacles” to distribution of the vaccine, which the state hopes to administer to 5.6 million people, or 70 percent of the state’s population over age 16.

“This is the most massive vaccination effort ever undertaken in the country, and every state is grappling with vaccine distribution going slower than needed to end this pandemic as quickly as possible,” Lynn Sutfin of MDHHS said in an email. “Launching mass vaccinations over the December holiday season created delays with some individuals intentionally delaying vaccines for themselves until after the holidays and clinics not being operational due to the holidays.”

Sutfin did not directly address why Michigan has had one of the nation’s lowest rates of COVID vaccinations.

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