By Jon King /

A local lawmaker is urging Gov. Whitmer to change the method the state is using to determine distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.

In a letter Thursday to the governor, State Senator Lana Theis, R-Brighton, says the state should reconsider its use of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) in determining the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

The use of that metric was discussed on Monday at the Livingston County Board of Commissioners meeting, in which it was learned that the county, based on 15 social determinants from census data, was ranked last of all Michigan’s 83 counties. The basic interpretation is that the healthier a county’s residents are, the lower the SVI. While that is normally seen as a positive result, for Theis it was anything but that.

“It is my duty, and the duty of all elected officials, to ensure that Michigan addresses health care disparities in a way that doesn’t create further disparity,” said Theis. “Instead of prioritizing COVID-19 vaccine distribution based on medical need, the state’s current method prioritizes bureaucratic social determinates to the detriment of tens of thousands of residents in my district.”

Calling the method a “bureaucratic technicality,” Theis called on the governor and state health officials to “rethink this approach so that our most vulnerable residents don’t slip through the cracks in our fight against the coronavirus.”

Theis said as a result of the SVI ranking, the county only received 5,400 first-round doses of the vaccine and 1,300 second-round doses, despite being home to 41,000 currently eligible residents in the state’s 1A and 1B vaccine groupings. She called that “grossly disproportionate when compared to other counties based on eligible population,” and added that historically the state has not used social factors when confronting past outbreaks, like H1N1, “but instead relied on medical factors associated with vulnerabilities to the disease. This is exactly how we should be getting the COVID-19 vaccine into people’s arms.” She called on Whitmer to “immediately implement a more reasonable, medical-factor-based plan that allows the most medically vulnerable populations to be prioritized for vaccination.”

Theis was joined by State Rep. Bob Bezotte, R-Howell, who said he found it "frustrating" that "Livingston was included in the Detroit Region due to the proximity of our distance to the high positive number area. While it had been previously requested for Livingston County to be moved to the Lansing Region, this request was actually denied mostly due to the proximity of Livingston to the southeast counties with the potential higher positive numbers. I would ask for the same consideration today based on the proximity of our seniors to the southeast region and their ability to get the vaccines they have signed up for.”

In response, Whitmer’s Press Secretary Bobby Leddy released the following statement: “Every eligible Michigander who wants a vaccine will get one. Michigan’s vaccination program is aligned with the CDC’s recommendations to ensure vaccines are prioritized for the most vulnerable and elderly population, frontline health care workers, and essential workers. The governor has a plan to invest additional funds toward COVID-19 vaccine administration after Congress passed a bipartisan relief bill, but this money has been held up by members of the legislature. We remain ready and willing to partner with all members of the Legislature, including Sen. Theis, to get this done -- and get it done right -- because we can’t afford to wait any longer.”

Guidance from the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services states that the vaccine status in Michigan communities "correlates with the communities hardest hit by COVID-19 this spring and areas with high rates of risk factors for severe COVID-19 outcomes."

In May, the board of commissioners approved a resolution to remove Livingston County from the Detroit Region in the classification system used by the state to engage the economy following the initial COVID shutdown, saying at the time that Livingston had more in common with counties in the Lansing Region than with counties like Oakland or Wayne, which actually have higher SVI rankings and thus are eligible for more vaccine.

Theis' letter to Gov. Whitmer is attached below.