Town Hall: Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II on Vaccine Distribution and Allocations Based on RaceMarch 26, 2021
As vaccination eligibility continues to expand, so do the state of Michigan’s efforts to alleviate racial disparities in public health outcomes and ensure the most vulnerable communities have access. In this town hall, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist discussed equitable vaccine distribution and allocations based on race, as well as the state’s progress in delivering equity for all.
Reducing COVID-19 deaths among Black Michiganders from 41% to fewer than 6%
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist has chaired the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer created an executive order forming the task force one year ago – making Michigan the first, and still only, state to directly address racial disparities highlighted by COVID-19.
The task force was able to act quickly based on the strengthens of what Lt. Gov. Gilchrist calls “our collective” – state health departments, agencies, community partners, and hospitals. “We made the choice to actually instrument our public health infrastructure to measure, track, and report data on demographics when it came to COVID-19 tests and fatalities that included race and ethnicity,” explained the lieutenant governor.
Through the breadth of its research, the task force saw a dangerous and deadly disparity. In the first two months of the pandemic, Black people accounted for 41% of COVID-19 cases in Michigan despite making up less than 14% of the state’s population.
“We needed to take action because people were dying everyday…I’ve lost 27 people to date from COVID-19,” said Lt. Gov. Gilchrist.
The state’s task force also included leaders representing business, clergy, labor, the youth, young professionals, parents, hospital systems, insurance companies, tribal and indigenous nations, higher education, community colleges, and K-12 education. “Everybody has a seat at this table,” said Lt. Gov. Gilchrist.
Because of the inclusivity of the task force and its “comprehensive collaboration,” Lt. Gov. Gilchrist said the task force has been able to reduce racial disparities. For example, Black Michiganders have now accounted for fewer than 6% of deaths from COVID-19 over the last five months.
“That speaks to the fact that the state of Michigan chose to focus on the experience of communities of color, and on how we can make sure fewer people get exposed, sick, hospitalized, and pass away. We were able to actually make progress,” said Lt. Gov. Gilchrist.
Notably, the Biden-Harris administration is using the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities as a national model. Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy director of Michigan’s department of health and human services, is also a member of the administration’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force.
Use of Social Vulnerability Index and other equity tools ‘only makes sense’
Detroit Regional Chamber Chief Operating Officer Tammy Carnrike asked Lt. Gov. Gilchrist about recent pushback in the legislature on using the Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) to decide on how many vaccine doses communities should receive.
“The Social Vulnerability Index is a measure that was created by the CDC,” said Lt. Gov. Gilchrist. He explained, “It is a way to look at different contributing factors for communities of people potentially being more susceptible to negative health outcomes. It takes into account race, ethnicity, median age, gender, [and] other factors that make up what we call social determinants of health – access to transportation, healthy food, educational services, and resources.”
Michigan has been a leader early on in using the SVI as a metric amongst others to target its COVID-19 response, which has involved placing neighborhood testing sites in the hardest-hit zip codes and locating community anchor institutions to help build trust in COVID-19 tests, said Lt. Gov. Gilchrist.
“The same thinking is how we’ve brought equity to our COVID response,” which has also included equitable distribution of 600 million free masks and $20 million in federal resources to 30 community organizations around the state, explained the lieutenant governor.
“As we turn toward the vaccine, which is our last and most significant hope and tool to end this pandemic in Michigan and around the country, it only makes sense that we use all of the tools necessary to protect the most vulnerable people,” said Lt. Gov. Gilchrist.
Mobile units are a key strategy for testing and vaccination
Later in their discussion, Carnrike asked the lieutenant governor about additional planning to achieve equitable vaccine distribution. For example, cities like New Orleans are driving mobile units into neighborhoods for testing and vaccinations.
“The mobile units were innovated and invented here in the state of Michigan, thanks to the vision of Wayne State University, Access Community Health, and Ford Motor Company partnering to manufacture special outfitted vans that, in the beginning of the pandemic, drove testing into communities,” explained Lt. Gov. Gilchrist, who says mobile units will also help deliver vaccines directly into communities.
One thousand of 6,000 vaccine doses will be delivered by mobile units to communities, as part of vaccination effort at Ford Field in Detroit.
“All of our survey data has shown people of color would prefer to get vaccinated and receive services in their communities rather than coming to a place like Ford Field,” revealed Lt. Gov. Gilchrist.
He also said the use of mobile units has been a far-reaching strategy that has delivered COVID-19 testing to deeply impacted areas such as metro Detroit, and to migrant farm workers in northern and northwest lower peninsula.
‘Access breeds trust because relationships breed trust’
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist also chairs the bipartisan Protect Michigan Commission, formed in December. The lieutenant governor called it the largest, most broad, and diverse commission seated to date to “deal with the biggest challenge of any of our lifetimes.”
The commission focuses on making sure people have the information and resources necessary to make a choice to get vaccinated. “Access breeds trust, because relationships breeds trust,” said Lt. Gov. Gilchrist.
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist also shared that in recent months the task force and commission have homed in on underlying causes for vaccine hesitancy, and how that fear extends beyond the Black community.
“For communities of color, for the Black community – yes, the Tuskegee experience happened, and it was terrible,” said Lt. Gov. Gilchrist. “But really underneath that, we’ve seen more people have questions or hesitancy because they haven’t had adequate and equitable access to the health care system overall, in the first place.”
It is why recommendations from the state’s task force has centered on making health care more accessible, said Lt. Gov. Gilchrist.
“But we need to deal with the politicization of the question of vaccination,” said Lt. Gov. Gilchrist. “National survey data has been abundantly clear that one of the groups of people we need to worry about the most are white republican men.”
The lieutenant governor concluded, saying: “We all have a role to play to deal with this hesitancy, but we have to be honest about where the hesitancy is truly coming from.”