Hoo boy: Demand for vaccine in parts of Michigan declines even as cases skyrocket

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, Pool

There are two ways to interpret this news, one shaky and the other rock solid.

The shaky interpretation is that declining demand in some parts of the state means that Gretchen Whitmer is blowing smoke when she says she needs extra vaccines from the feds. If demand is falling, she should be able to make do with her current allocation, right? Eh, maybe not. Click and scroll down to the table tracking vaccinations in different counties over the past three weeks and you’ll see that the numbers are going up in the big ones — Wayne, Macomb, and especially Kent. Demand in the cities might be rising fast enough that Whitmer just can’t keep them fully supplied even if she reallocates doses from counties where demand isn’t as high. In which case, yeah, it makes sense that she wants the feds to send extra.

The more solid interpretation, though, is that parts of Michigan really are seeing a decline in interest in getting vaccinated in certain parts of the state at a moment when people should be desperate to be immunized. You want to know how bad things are there right now? This bad:

The state recorded 10,277 cases yesterday, its highest of the entire pandemic. The seven-day average in cases is also now above its winter peak, making this the worst outbreak the state has suffered since COVID arrived last March. (Although, as always, we need to remember that tests were scarce during the first few months last spring.) This isn’t a “casedemic” either, in which people are testing positive but are otherwise fine because they skew much younger in age on average. A local reporter pointed out last night that hospitalizations are also at their highest point of the pandemic:

Think of all the heat Gretchen Whitmer took at various points last year for locking down and reflect on the fact that conditions now are measurably worse than they ever were then — and she refuses to lock down this time, so tired are her state’s residents of COVID restrictions.

The point is, if demand for the vaccine is declining in rural parts of Michigan amid the worst COVID outbreak that the state has ever endured and the worst currently raging in the United States, this country may have an even bigger problem with vaccine hesitancy than it imagines. Rural residents are in the middle of an inferno of infection and that’s still not enough to get them to come out and get their shots:

“We have seen the demand wane,” said Steve Hall, the health officer for the six-county Central Michigan Health Department in the northern Lower Peninsula. “We’re struggling (to fill appointments) right now.”…

In the Thumb, Hepfer said demand has fallen among younger residents as well. A vaccine clinic for 16 and 17 year-olds had to be cancelled.

“We couldn’t fill it,” she said.

Health officials in northwest Michigan and Calhoun County demand is slackening there as well. And in Ingham County, health officer Linda Vail said her county expects the same could occur within a couple of weeks.

“We are definitely seeing difficulty in filling up our clinic schedules,” said Eric Pessell, health officer for Calhoun County. He said the state has already reduced allocations to the county because of a reduction in interest.

“We have started to transition to both scheduled and walk in availability.”

Hall actually turned down a shipment of 1,100 doses this week because he wasn’t sure he could use them given the slackening demand. They’re better off being sent somewhere else, he concluded, even as his state’s epidemic reached its worst point ever.

I’d love to tell you that this is a freakish outlier but Hot Air alum Noah Rothman spent last night on Twitter pointing out that stories like this are popping up all over the country:

The “vaccine wall” we’ll soon be facing may be higher than we thought. Biden swaggered yesterday afternoon that we’ll have enough doses for everyone even if J&J never returns to the market, which is nice but irrelevant if we can’t convince people to take them. The “supply problem” phase of the vaccination is ending. The “demand problem” phase has begun and Michigan is the starkest illustration.

As for the extra vaccines Whitmer keeps asking for, it’s hard to argue with this logic: “The current population-based vaccine strategy is designed to ensure fairness for all states and to tackle the virus across the nation. If the administration cedes to Michigan’s appeals, it will inevitably receive similar calls from other states that that could splinter the coherence of the national vaccine effort. And Biden could soon find himself accused of playing favorites with vaccine stocks.” Not only that, any state that loses doses to Michigan and then happens to suffer an outbreak will be quick to blame that outbreak on Biden for redirecting some of its doses, especially if the governor’s a Republican. The White House would rather let Michigan’s outbreak burn itself out than place itself in a sticky political situation by surging vaccines there.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, Michigan remains middle-of-the-pack in terms of the share of the population that’s received its first dose and both doses. It’s a few percentage points ahead of Texas in both categories and Texas is still seeing daily case counts around 80 percent off its winter peak. Michigan’s vax numbers are almost identical to Ohio’s across the border, in fact, and Ohio’s not seeing anything like the outbreak its neighbor is. Whatever’s going on in MI doesn’t seem to be due to a vaccination shortfall.