By Mike Kruzman & Jon King /

Livingston County Commissioners are “appalled” at the metric being used which allocates fewer COVID vaccines to the county than any other in Michigan.

At the Board’s online meeting, this week, Livingston County Health Department Director Dianne McCormick updated officials on vaccination efforts. Based on her estimates, there are 41,000 local residents eligible to be vaccinated in the two open phases. Since late December, the county has received 4,300 first doses, 1,300 second doses, and is expected to have 1,100 more first doses delivered this week. If those numbers feel low, it doesn’t appear that they will get much better soon.

McCormick said last week the state announced it will be using the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) to determine how many vaccines each county gets, which puts Livingston County at a disadvantage. Areas with higher SVI values will see an increase in vaccines shipped, while areas with a lower value will receive decreased shipments. Livingston County has the lowest value, meaning it will receive the least.

According to the CDC’s website, Social Vulnerability refers to the resilience of communities when confronted by external stresses on human health, like disease outbreaks. Socially Vulnerable Populations include those who have special needs, such as, but not limited to, people without vehicles, people with disabilities, older adults, and people with limited English proficiency. The CDC uses census data to rank 15 different social factors within each census tract. They are grouped into 4 “themes” with separate individual rankings, and one overall ranking.

Those four themes are socioeconomic status (below poverty, unemployed, income, no high school diploma), household composition and disability (people 65 and older, 17 and under, older than 5 with a disability, and single-parent households), minority status and language (minority, speak English “less than well”), and housing type and transportation (multi-unit structures, mobile homes, crowding, no vehicle, group quarters).

McCormick said in many ways, having a low SVI score is good, but in this case it is working against Livingston County, which is 83rd among Michigan’s 83 counties.

Board Chair Wes Nakagiri said this information is appalling to him. He said it has been pounded into his head that senior citizens are the most vulnerable population, and that now they are only weighted to be about 6.25% of the equation that determines how many vaccines are coming. He said it is perplexing how those other factors get into an equation for withholding and rationing health care, which is what he said the state is doing. Nakagiri said he wants people to understand how the state government is prioritizing the distribution of this vaccine, with no evidence of available SVI data being used during other health crises like H1N1 or the swine flu. He said if this was “such a great thing, the state would be touting it,” and encouraged everyone to call their elected representatives.

Commissioners Jay Gross and Kate Lawrence both lamented being at the bottom of the totem pole, with Lawrence saying it “feels like we’re being punished for being healthy…yet we have vulnerable people in the community.” She asked McCormick what they need to do to make distribution fairer. McCormick said that she has sent letters identifying a few points of concern to Lansing, requesting dialogue to see how they can advocate for more. She said they still have a fair amount of people in phase 1A to vaccinate, and then phase 1B was opened while shipping even fewer vaccines. McCormick pleaded, “at least give us enough to get 1A vaccinated.”

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.

McCormick did have a bit of news to be optimistic about during the meeting. She said Johnson & Johnson should be rolling out millions of one-dose vaccines a day out at the end of February or in early March. She said the one-dose shots are particularly wanted for treating homebound seniors.

Commissioner Brenda Plank said her husband, who was not in an eligible priority group, was offered a vaccine he didn’t accept by his doctor during a wellness check and asked McCormick if this means doctors are getting a greater supply than the county. McCormick said health care systems are getting vaccines, but they should be sticking with priority groups. She said there has been concern expressed with people vaccinating outside the parameters, and instances where some are using 2nd doses as a first. McCormick said this may be the reason that many are receiving smaller shipments, because some hospital systems don’t have enough for 2nd doses after using theirs up as firsts.

More information on the Social Vulnerability Index can be found by Clicking Here.

Michigan’s latest vaccination prioritization guidelines are Available Here.