Adolescents will give a needed boost to Michigan’s declining COVID-19 vaccination numbers after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the Pfizer vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds, experts predict.
About 68% of parents surveyed by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in March said they would be very or somewhat likely to get their kids vaccinated if a vaccine were to become available. It was an increase from 63% of parents who were asked the same question in November, according to the state health department.
The state health department is now asking all primary care physicians to enroll as vaccine providers in an effort to expand vaccinations across the state as children ages 12-15 become eligible.
Providers such as Beaumont Health swiftly launched kids’ vaccination clinics on Thursday after the government issued its recommendation that the shots be given to children 12-15 a day earlier.
This comes after COVID-19 vaccinations declined in Michigan for a fourth week in a row last week, suggesting a majority of adults who want the shots have already received them. Health experts say many adults who are still unvaccinated are hesitant to receive the vaccine and will be hard to convince.
“We’re running out of willing arms,” said Dr. Nigel Paneth, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and pediatrics at Michigan State University. “People who were 100% behind it have already been vaccinated.
“Anybody (among adults over 16) not vaccinated now is either stalling or waiting, had one shot and doesn’t want to get the second, or doesn’t like vaccines in general — all the usual concerns that people have.”
Doses administered in Michigan peaked at 674,488 the week ending April 10 but plunged to 386,069 the week ending May 8 — a 43% drop from the mid-April high point. A similar vaccination decline has been experienced nationwide, according to CDC data.
The nosedive was apparent at Ford Field in Detroit, where injections plummeted from 4,616 on May 3 to 293 vaccinations on May 6. The mass vaccination site has the capacity to inoculate 6,000 people per day. On Sunday, which was Mother’s Day, 109 injections were given.
The daily administration of vaccines across the country peaked in mid-April as well, CDC data show. Despite new policies that allow nearly anyone of an eligible age to get a vaccine across the nation, the number of people getting vaccinated in the past few days more closely matches January, when only a limited number of the most vulnerable people across the country could get a vaccine.
At its peak during the week of April 10, the United States vaccinated 22.4 million adults. But the number fell 41% to about 13.2 million doses for the week of May 7, the latest full week, according to CDC data.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has announced the goal of vaccinating 70% of Michigan adults age 16 and older.
Whitmer this week hailed the state’s achievement of surpassing 55% of Michigan adults age 16 years and older who had received at least one dose of vaccine. She continued to urge that more eligible residents get vaccinated.
“Every day, we’re getting closer to putting this pandemic behind us,” the governor said. “The way to get there is to vaccinate as many Michiganders who are eligible as quickly as possible.”
The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates 25% of Michigan’s population has been vaccinated when all ages are included. The state’s website on Thursday indicated 43.6% of Michigan adults 16 and older were fully vaccinated.
“We’re at an inflection point, depending on the number of people who get vaccinated,” Paneth said. “It won’t be over until we can sustain a low level of transmission, and right now we still have thousands of cases a day in the U.S.
“… It’s not over until it’s over.”
Surveying the hesitancy
On behalf of the state health department, Edison Research interviewed 1,838 Michigan residents age 16 and older online or by phone from March 13 through April 5. A similar survey was done by Edison in November.
More African-American, Hispanic and Middle Eastern/North African respondents were interviewed compared with their portion of Michigan’s population to improve the analysis, according to the state health department. The data were weighted to match the sex, age, ethnicity and region of Michigan residents.
The most recent survey found 76% of respondents had begun the vaccination process or were leaning toward it. Another 63% had either started the process or said they would get vaccinated “as soon as it becomes available.”
But there were striking differences depending on the respondent’s race, with 67% of White respondents having already initiated or close to initiating vaccination, compared with 55% of Black respondents and 42% of Hispanic respondents. About 60% of North African or Middle Eastern respondents had started or were ready to start the vaccination process.
A Facebook survey conducted by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation last week found that 69.1% of Michigan adults would accept or probably accept a COVID-19 vaccination, down 0.01 from the prior week’s survey.
Across the country, the portion of the population open to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine ranged from 57% in Wyoming to 83% in Vermont.
The survey numbers suggest that herd immunity may be difficult to achieve because of these attitudes. About 85% of the population would need to be immune to the coronavirus to achieve herd immunity during the winter, the peak season for COVID-19, said Mokdad, the University of Washington researcher.
Herd immunity happens when so many people are immune that the virus can’t find people to replicate in.
The percentage immune includes people who are either vaccinated or have natural immunity due to having been infected with the disease. Mokdad estimates 34% of Michigan residents have been infected with COVID-19.
Michigan’s health department doesn’t estimate the percentage of residents who have natural immunity due to COVID-19 infection, spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin said.
“There is not enough information currently available to say if or for how long after infection someone is protected from getting COVID-19 again,” Sutfin said. “Early evidence suggests natural immunity from COVID-19 may not last very long, but more studies are needed to better understand this.
Considering some people were vaccinated after having already been infected with the coronavirus, Mokdad estimates roughly half of Michigan residents have some immunity through vaccination or from catching the virus.
“Herd immunity required for summer is less than for winter — about 60%,” Mokdad said. “But for winter, we need about 85%. The concern is that people are going to let down their guard in summer and we’re going to see a surge come winter.”
Adolescents are bright spot
Adolescents 12 through 15 years old could potentially make the difference between accomplishing herd immunity — or not, Mokdad said.
“It’s going to help us a lot,” he said.
Megan Sims, 13, was among the first group of Metro Detroit teens to get the first dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine Thursday through Beaumont Health, a day after U.S. health officials endorsed use of the vaccine in kids as young as 12 and Michigan health officials followed suit.
“I can see friends again, I can see family who have (received) the vaccine and be safe about it,” Sims said.
Michigan health officials said late Wednesday health care providers could start administering vaccines for adolescents Thursday and that further guidance would be issued. Experts say children are far less likely than adults to get seriously ill from COVID-19 — but some have died from the virus and thousands have been hospitalized.
Megan’s father, Matthew Sims, a Beaumont doctor and director of infectious disease research for Beaumont Health, joined Megan for her vaccination Thursday.
“I’m a firm believer in vaccines as the single greatest treatment and prevention strategies we have,” he said. “They’re safe and they work.”
Koby Rauner, 14, received the first dose of his vaccine at Beaumont’s Southfield facility. Koby’s mom, Sarah Rauner, is a pediatric nurse practitioner and coordinator of the vaccine clinics at the Beaumont Service Center and Beaumont Hospital in Troy.
Rauner said he hopes more teens follow his and Megan’s lead and get the shot, too.
“It won’t hurt you,” he said. “It will only help you.”
In the United States, about 80% of people age 16 years and older are eligible for the vaccine, Mokdad said. Combine that with all of the eligible 12- to 15-year-olds, and the country could reach the 85% required for herd immunity, he said.
“It’s not going to happen for this winter because the numbers don’t add up,” Mokdad said.
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