Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer pleaded for extra COVID-19 vaccines from the Biden administration Friday as she contends with an alarming surge linked to aggressive variants and youth sports.
“Anyone who looks at the COVID map knows Michigan is unquestionably a national hot spot right now,” the Democrat said at a press conference in which she called for a voluntary, two-week freeze on youth sports, in-person high school and indoor dining. “My team and I have been in regular conversation with the national COVID-19 response team and we have asked for more vaccines.”
Ms. Whitmer particularly wants the one-shot Johnson & Johnson version, saying it is an efficient way to immunize young people who are driving the spread, even as that company struggles to ramp up production.
So far, the White House isn’t budging. Switching the vaccine rollout from a population-based system to one based on need would pose obvious problems — for instance, other governors might accuse the federal government of rewarding states that are performing poorly against the virus.
White House COVID-19 Jeffrey Zients did not offer more vaccines Friday but said states with high levels of transmission will get other forms of aid, including federal personnel, additional tests and therapeutics that can keep infected persons out of the hospital.
He also said states should ensure they are rapidly using doses that are allocated to them.
“We’re going to stick with the allocation system of allocating by state adult population,” Mr. Zients said. “That said, it is a challenging situation in many states and we want to do all we can to help those states. That’s why we’re working with states to make sure that every dose they do receive is administered as efficiently and equitably as possible.”
The offer clearly wasn’t enough for the governor.
“I am grateful for what they’ve offered,” Ms. Whitmer said. “But I am concerned because I believe, as do a number of public health experts, that we really should be surging to states that are experiencing serious outbreaks.”
Michigan is recording a daily average of 7,000 cases per day, up from around 1,500 a month ago, and it’s recording around 40 deaths per day instead of 20.
Ms. Whitmer said her push for a two-week suspension of certain activities is voluntary, while high schools that maintain in-person instruction should enroll in the state’s rapid-testing program.
“These are not orders, mandates or requirements,” she said. “This has to be a team effort.”
Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said surges in Michigan and Minnesota are tied to the B.1.1.7, or “U.K.,” variant and occurring around club and school sports.
The surge is considered a glaring reminder that the pandemic isn’t over, despite a vaccine rollout that’s putting over 3 million shots in American arms per day and causing states to relax societal restrictions.
Ms. Whitmer’s request for J&J vaccines comes as that company’s allocation is set to plummet from nearly 5 million this week to about 700,000 next week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The company has suffered from unpredictable production as it waits for clearance from the Food and Drug Administration at a Baltimore facility that suffered a recent mishap.
The Biden administration gave J&J full control of an Emergent BioSolutions facility after workers conflated ingredients for the vaccine with those for AstraZeneca’s version. The administration is searching for another site for AstraZeneca.
Mr. Zients said Friday that J&J will deliver a “relatively low level of weekly dose delivery” until it secures authorization.
The company expects a weekly cadence of up to 8 million weekly doses by the end of April, he said, and will get “at or near” its stated goal of 100 million doses delivered by the end of May.