Why where you live determines when you can get vaccinated

COVID-19 vaccines
Posted at 11:18 PM, Feb 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-24 23:18:29-05

(WXYZ) — In New Jersey, smokers are at the top of the line to get a COVID vaccine. Oregon is prioritizing teachers and the elderly. Each state is different. And at times, in Michigan, it can feel like each county is different. Navigating how to get a COVID vaccine — and figuring out if you're eligible yet can be confusing.

This month, the City of Detroit announced that those with intellectual and developmental disabilities are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine – regardless of age. It’s a first in the state.

"There was a desire from the Detroit community that we answer to those with disabilities," said Hakim Berry, Detroit’s Chief Operating Officer and an architect of the city’s testing and vaccine programs.

According to Berry, Detroit can expand eligibility because those in other high-risk groups — like people over 65 or seniors with underlying conditions— were already given the chance to get vaccinated.

"We want to make sure that every time we open a vial, it’s going to go in someone’s arm," Berry said. "So that we don’t have any waste or that unfortunate situation where you’re looking for someone to vaccinate because you have too many doses."

But Detroit’s broader eligibility highlights something unique about the vaccine rollout: Where you live or work can drastically affect when you get it.

"We’re literally still working our way thru our long-term care facilities," said Rudy Hobbs the Deputy Executive of Oakland County.

Oakland County — like Detroit — is trying to expand who’s eligible for the vaccine.

"As we try to work thru our 1A, we’re working thru our 1B also," said Hobbs.

But the county’s health department is getting fewer vaccines than the city. Last week Detroit’s Health Dept. got over 22,000 doses of the vaccine, while Oakland County received just under 8,000.

"We still have just over 11,000 individuals who are One Phase One A that have not been vaccinated," he said.

It makes it harder for Oakland to keep up. And it means the rules vary from place to place.

A 40-year-old who’s hearing impaired in Detroit can get the vaccine. But if the same person lived in Oakland, Macomb or Washtenaw County they couldn’t.

"We have to be very careful about how we open up eligibility, understanding that we’re still finishing up 1A," said Hobbs.

Detroit’s ability to expand eligibility is due in part to receiving a larger vaccine allotment from the state. And the fact that the state is asking all health departments to use 90% of the vaccines they receive within seven days.

As of Monday the City of Detroit’s Health Dept. had given vaccines to over 35,000 people over the age of 65. But as it works to target more seniors, eligibility is also expanding so vaccines — which must be used — don’t miss a target.

"They’ve definitely answered that — they’re getting it out into the communities," said Lynn Suftin with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

According to Suftin the state provides a guidance — based on CDC recommendations — regarding priorities

"We definitely want them to prioritize those individuals 65 and older just for the simple fact that we know that 80 percent of our fatalities from COVID came from those groups," she said, though noting that there is still flexibility.

"They also have the ability to determine what individuals in their communities might be most vulnerable," said Suftin.

While the City of Detroit's health department is getting more vaccines than many of the other local health departments, individuals like Berry point out that this is for a reason: City residents have lagged behind vaccine access, in part because when the vaccine was first distributed it went to local health departments first.

"Initially, the allocation of the vaccines went to the large healthcare systems and they then distributed based on the population in their network," said Berry. "Some of the patients that were contacted did not live in Detroit — so that’s when we had to take a look and say, how do we make the vaccine available to Detroiters."

According to the Michigan Vaccine Dashboard 16% of Oakland County residents have been vaccinated, 13% of Macomb County residents have been vaccinated, and 9% of Detroit residents have been vaccinated.