By Jessica Mathews & Jon King /

Republicans in Lansing have followed the lead of their GOP colleagues in Livingston County and proposed changes that would ban Michigan from using factors such as race and socioeconomic status in determining COVID vaccine allocation to communities.

The Michigan Senate Appropriations Committee voted 11-6 along party lines to adopt an amendment that would force the state to stop using the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index to determine vaccine allocations. SVI scores and ranks counties on socio-economic factors like household composition, minority status, and transportation.

Current SVI rankings put Livingston County at the bottom of the ladder for vaccines coming into the county. The all-Republican Livingston County Board of Commissioners on Monday unanimously passed a resolution calling on Governor Gretchen Whitmer to replace the SVI-based plan with a plan more focused on age. The SVI does consider age as one of the 15 factors, at 6.25% of the overall equation.

Republican Senator Tom Barrett of Charlotte proposed the amendment to drop the SVI and maintained that decisions should have a "scientific basis" instead of using what he called a "social justice platform." It would ban the state from weighing certain factors such as race, gender, color, national origin, religion, sex, or socioeconomic status and instead require the state to consider census data and use the estimated number of people in vaccine priority groups who have not yet been vaccinated in any given county.

The SVI strategy uses 15 variables to determine a ranking;

• Poverty
• Employment
• Income
• Education
• Population over 65 years of age
• Population under 17 years of age
• Presence of a disability
• Single-parent households
• Identified as a minority
• Language literacy
• Quality/type of housing
• Crowding
• Group quarters
• Lack of housing
• Lack of access to transportation

Those factors are grouped into 4 “themes” (socioeconomic status, household composition and disability, minority status and language, housing type and transportation) with separate individual rankings, and from those, one overall ranking is made.

The amendment is part of a larger supplemental spending bill related to how federal COVID-19 relief funds awarded to the state should be distributed. Many Republicans have argued that greater consideration should be given to the elderly at-risk population and most vulnerable. Democrats oppose the changes and have said decisions about vaccine distribution should be left to experts and have concerns about disproportionately impacting communities of color and others hit harder by COVID-19. Sen. Adam Hollier, a Detroit Democrat, pointed out that of the more than 15,300 COVID-19 deaths in Michigan, 2,058 were residents of Wayne County while more than 1,800 lived in the City of Detroit. "Much of the reason that we talk about the Social Vulnerability Index is because there are different ways that you live when you're poor...we should allow scientists and experts to allocate vaccines based on how they believe it should be done."

Federal health officials have said distribution plans that focus solely on age do not target those who are most at risk. Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin told The Detroit News that priority groups generally focus on age, job, or health care status but the department has been using the SVI from the CDC to "adjust the allocations of vaccine to ensure that communities at most risk receive vaccine during times of scarcity."