Medical groups slam GOP bill that prohibits state from considering race, income in vaccine distribution

By: - February 26, 2021 5:00 pm

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In response to the GOP-led Michigan Senate voting Thursday on a small COVID-19 relief plan — which also would prevent the state from following longtime, nationally-recognized social equity guidance that informs Michigan’s vaccine distribution —  state medical organizations have come out against the controversial vote.

Democratic lawmakers listed numerous reasons for their strong opposition of the $727 million supplemental funding bill. Of those, the Republicans’ amendment prohibiting the state from using the Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) anymore while distributing vaccinations garnered the most debate.

GOP House and Senate leaders and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have yet to strike a deal on how to spend the almost $6 billion in federal funds from a December congressional plan. The House and Senate have passed significantly smaller plans, arguing that the Legislature should have more control over how funds are spent, especially since they oppose the Whitmer administration’s remaining health restrictions.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created the SVI decades ago to ensure that disproportionately vulnerable Americans receive the resources they need during disasters and other challenges like a pandemic. The index accounts for factors such as race and socioeconomic status to help governments determine where to send more help.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has been using the SVI to inform where vaccinations should be sent, not who is eligible for the vaccine. DHHS data indicates that whites have been vaccinated at about twice the rate of African Americans.

But Senate Republicans this week have misrepresented the index as a “biased” and unfair method of distribution.

Dr. Bobby Mukkamala, president of the Michigan State Medical Society (MSMS), slammed the GOP amendment for ignoring and possibly exacerbating existing inequities.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been well documented that social determinants of health such as those included in the legislation are clearly linked to COVID-19 transmission, illness, and death. Most notably, despite making up only 13% of Michigan’s population, Black or African American individuals disproportionately count for nearly 22% of Michigan’s COVID-19 deaths,” Mukkamala said in a statement.

“MSMS is committed to approaching vaccine distribution through an evidence-based approach that does not exacerbate existing inequities. … MSMS supports equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine and encourages the use of tools such as the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index and the inclusion of metrics related to social determinants of health in the vaccine’s distribution,” Mukkamala continued.

Dr. Rob Davidson, executive director of the Committee to Protect Medicare and an emergency physician in West Michigan, said in a statement that the GOP-led Senate’s refusal to acknowledge existing disparities during COVID-19 will only make them worse.

“Refusing to prioritize Black and brown communities who have been disproportionately harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic is cruel and will cost Michigan more lives,” Davidson said. “From a medical perspective, it’s like giving a patient who’s having a heart attack and one whose arm is broken both one cast in the name of fairness.

“This approach doesn’t make sense, and it leaves the patient — and the Michiganders who need vaccine protection most — behind. It’s yet another tactic Republicans are using that will prolong this pandemic in Michigan.”

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).