Lansing — The top six counties in Michigan for vaccination rates all ranked near the bottom for new COVID-19 cases per population during the month of May, another potential indicator of the success of the vaccines.
While Michigan is experiencing significant declines in infection rates statewide, counties with higher percentages of vaccinated adult populations 16 years and older are tending to experience lower new case numbers, according to a Detroit News analysis of state Department of Health and Human Services data.
Of the 20 Michigan counties that reported the most new cases per population in May, six, or 30%, had rates of fully vaccinated adults that were above the statewide percentage. Of the 20 counties that reported the fewest new cases per population in May, 15, or 75%, had vaccination rates above the statewide percentage.
“These are encouraging and hopeful signs that we are truly driving transmission down,” said Lisa Peacock, health officer for the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department, in a statement last week. “They are signs that the vaccine is working and protecting us from COVID infection and transmission.”
Northwest Michigan’s Leelanau County is the top county in Michigan for vaccinations with 67% of its population age 16 and older completely vaccinated, while neighboring Benzie County has 57% of its adult population fully vaccinated.
They both were among the bottom 10 of Michigan’s 83 counties for new cases per population during May. Leelanau County reported 35 new infections in May, or one new case for each 621 residents.
The News analyzed COVID-19 infection data tracked by the state Department of Health and Human Services from April 30 through June 1 to arrive at the figures.
Dr. Nigel Paneth, a professor with Michigan State University’s Departments of Epidemiology & Biostatistics and Pediatrics & Human Development, said it’s plausible the vaccines are already having an impact on countywide numbers.
Vaccinations are the way out of the continued fight against COVID-19, he said.
“The alternative is continued epidemic spread,” Paneth said.
Many epidemiologists have been hesitant to draw a direct connection between the vaccination rates and the current new case numbers, said Stephen Hawes, a professor with the University of Washington’s Department of Epidemiology.
“However, I think it is safe to say that as we attain higher and higher vaccination coverage in many communities, it is likely that we will have fewer new cases, and this pattern can increasingly be attributed to increased vaccination,” Hawes said.
Statewide, at least 46.6% of Michigan’s adult population were completely vaccinated, according to the data. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s goal has been to get 70% of the adult population vaccinated with at least one dose of vaccine.
During a Tuesday press conference, Whitmer said there’s no indication that regional or statewide shutdowns will be needed again.
“We feel really confident that we are … almost on the other side. I hate to say we’re out of the tunnel because we are still in it,” she said. “But we’ve got the tools we need to stay safe now.”
The best thing residents can do to stay safe is to get vaccinated, the governor added.
After a surge that hit in April, Michigan’s new case rates and COVID-19 hospitalizations have been declining for about six weeks. Last week, the state reported 4,517 new infections, a 36-week low.
As of Tuesday morning, Leelanau, Grand Traverse, Emmet, Washtenaw, Benzie and Charlevoix counties reported the highest vaccination rates in the state. All six had at least 55% of their adult population completely vaccinated, and all six were among the bottom 20 counties for new cases per population during May.
Alger, Clinton, Gogebic, Huron, Ingham, Keweenaw, Manistee, Marquette and Roscommon counties were also among the bottom 20 for new cases per population, with vaccination rates higher than the statewide percentage.
Chippewa, Dickinson, Houghton, Menominee and Sanilac were among the bottom 20 for new cases per population during May but had lower vaccination rates than the statewide percentage.
Among the 20 counties that reported the most new cases per population during the month of May, 14 had vaccination rates below the statewide percentage: Allegan, Arenac, Baraga, Barry, Calhoun, Ionia, Luce, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Ogemaw, Osceola, Oscoda and Saginaw.
The other six had higher vaccination rates: Bay, Kent, Montmorency, Ottawa, Presque Isle and Schoolcraft.
Baraga County in the Upper Peninsula reported 115 new cases during May, or one new infection for each 72 residents. About 38% of its adult population is fully vaccinated.
As of Tuesday, a set of COVID-19 restrictions eased across Michigan, including capacity limits for outdoor events disappearing. Whitmer credited Michiganians getting vaccinated for the state’s ability to “return to normal more quickly.”
“Our state is closer and closer to being back to normal,” the governor said.
Vaccine-COVID case connection?
These 15 counties had complete vaccination rates above the state average of 46.6% and were in the bottom 20 counties for new COVID-19 cases per population in May: Leelanau, Grand Traverse, Emmet, Washtenaw, Benzie, Charlevoix, Alger, Clinton, Gogebic, Huron, Ingham, Keweenaw, Manistee, Marquette and Roscommon.
These 14 counties had vaccination rates below the statewide average of 46.6% and were among the 20 counties reporting the most new cases per population in May: Allegan, Arenac, Baraga, Barry, Calhoun, Ionia, Luce, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Ogemaw, Osceola, Oscoda and Saginaw.
Source: Detroit News analysis of Michigan health department data
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