New: White Michiganders are about 2x as likely to have gotten the COVID vaccine than African Americans

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun receives her COVID-19 vaccine during an event at Henry Ford Hospital in December 2020 | DHHS photo
Updated, 5:23 p.m. 2/23/21

State health officials reported Tuesday that white people are about twice as likely as Black individuals to be vaccinated for COVID-19 in Michigan and emphasized they are continuing efforts to address the racial inequities plaguing the vaccine rollout.

According to newly released data by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), 7.9% of white Michiganders have received the first COVID-19 shot and 4.7% of whites have gotten both shots, while 4.1% of Black residents have received the first dose and 1.6% have had the second.*

“This is consistent with the data that’s been made available across the country and is not something that’s surprising,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical officer and the DHHS’ chief deputy director for health, said in a Tuesday interview with the Michigan Advance. “We know disparities exist; we know there are challenges when it comes to access and equity. We know because of valid historical reasons African Americans in particular have been more likely to be hesitant to receive the vaccine.”

A total of 1,252,497 Michigan residents have received as least one dose of the vaccine as of Feb. 22, but only 56% of the reported COVID-19 vaccine doses include information about race, state officials said Tuesday. About 1.94 million COVID-19 doses have been administered in the state, a figure that includes two doses for the individuals who have received both shots.

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Of the 56% reported, 41.7% of the vaccine recipients are white and 3.7% are Black. Black individuals make up 14.1% of Michigan’s population. About 43.7% are labeled as unknown, 9.5% are categorized as “other,” 1.1% are Asian or Pacific Islander, and 0.3% are American Indian/Alaskan Native. 

Nationally, Black residents, who make up 13.4% of the country’s population, constitute 5.4% of vaccine recipients, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

State health officials said today that they are now able to gather more comprehensive data on the racial and ethnic breakdown of COVID-19 vaccine recipients because they’ve updated the state’s immunization record-keeping system, the Michigan Care Improvement Registry (MCIR). Prior to the COVID-19 vaccine, the system did not collect data on race and ethnicity, but vaccine distributors, such as health care systems and other health care providers, can now directly enter data on race and ethnicity into MCIR.

Sarah Lyon-Callo, the director of the state’s Bureau of Epidemiology and Population Health, explained that the state has been working to streamline its ability to collect data on race and ethnicity of vaccine recipients since the COVID-19 vaccines began to be distributed in December. She noted it has taken the state some time to do so because of the updates that had to be made to the MCIR.

“Not only do we need to build the receiving end, hospitals and health care systems have to make changes to their systems,” Lyon-Callo said.

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While the data presented today isn’t surprising for Khaldun and Lyon-Callo, the two leaders said it paints a picture of inequities that must change.

“Black and Brown communities have been disproportionately affected by the virus, and improving the race and ethnicity data being collected for vaccinations is critical for ensuring the equitable administration of the vaccine,” Khaldun said in a press release. “We will use this data to continue to drive our strategy towards making sure everyone has equitable access to the vaccines.”

Michigan has had more than 582,000 COVID cases and almost 15,300 deaths.

The cumulative COVID-19 case rate has been 40% higher for Black Michiganders than white residents and the death rate for Black residents has been over three times the rate in white residents, according to the DHHS. 

Khaldun emphasized that since December, the percentage of Black Michiganders who have received the vaccine has increased, going from .5% in the first three weeks of the vaccinations to the current 3.7%.

Still, that’s nowhere near the percentage state officials want to see, and Khaldun said state and community leaders are continuing to tackle the steep barriers that exist between marginalized individuals and the vaccine, including expanding information about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine in a variety of languages and through trusted neighborhood organizations. 

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Khaldun emphasized that the state bases its vaccine distribution on what’s known as the “Social Vulnerability Index,” which takes into account race and ethnicity, disability status, language barriers, and more when deciding how much vaccine to send to different areas.

“It’s important across the country that we think about equity in our vaccination strategy,” Khaldun said.

State officials hope to better connect older individuals, including people of color, with the vaccines by allocating a portion of Michigan’s vaccine supply to 41 health clinics that work with low-income residents over the age of 65. The clinics, known as “federally qualified health centers,” are located in both rural and urban areas of the state.

Additionally, Khaldun said state officials are working to support local organizations that want to bring the vaccine into neighborhoods in an effort to reach individuals who have limited or no access to transportation.

“The best public health is when you go into neighborhoods, as opposed to waiting for people to come to you,” Khaldun said.

This story has been updated with new data from DHHS.