Politics: Biden resists calls to give hard-hit states more vaccines than others

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The Biden administration is resisting calls to alter its strategy for vaccine distribution as COVID-19 cases spike in some states and demand lags elsewhere.

Joe Biden wearing a suit and tie: Biden resists calls to give hard-hit states more vaccines than others © Getty Images Biden resists calls to give hard-hit states more vaccines than others

Several prominent health experts, as well as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and members of the state's congressional delegation, have been calling on the Biden administration to send additional vaccine doses to their state amid a worrying spike in cases and hospitalizations there.

But on Friday the White House rejected Michigan's request, saying that it did not want to take any vaccine doses away from other areas of the country. The White House's current vaccine distribution strategy is based on population, not hot spots.

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The situation highlights disparities between the states, though, as while Michigan is clamoring for more vaccine doses amid a surge, other states have thousands of unfilled appointments.

Mississippi, for example, had over 70,000 appointments available on Thursday, The New York Times reported.

Whitmer said she would keep pushing for a surge of vaccine doses for her state, after unsuccessfully making the case in a phone call with President Biden on Thursday night.

"I made the case for a surge strategy," Whitmer said at a press conference on Friday. "At this point, that's not being deployed but I am not giving up."

She said the strategy should be deploying vaccine doses to be "squelching where the hot spots are."

While Michigan right now is by far the hardest-hit state, Whitmer said other states could soon be in the position of needing to ask for more doses too. Other hot spot states are largely in the northeast, including New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island.

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The White House said it would be offering additional staff to other hard-hit states besides Michigan as well, but did not specify which ones, saying conversations are ongoing.

"Today it's Michigan and the Midwest, tomorrow, it could be another section of our country," Whitmer said.

The White House did say Friday that it will be sending additional staff to help with vaccinations to hard-hit states like Michigan, as well as additional testing capacity and treatments.

Eric Topol, professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, called the extra staff to help with vaccinations amid Michigan's surge in cases a sign the Biden administration is "finally taking it seriously," saying "this has been brewing" for a few weeks.

Like other states, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows there is a significant gap between doses delivered to Michigan and the number actually administered, meaning there is room for the state to step up vaccinations even without more doses, Topol said.

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But more broadly, he said more doses for hot spots would also make sense, rather than the current formula which is based largely on population.

"Population-based is not making any sense," he said. "It's where it's needed."

Jeff Zients, the White House coordinator for the COVID-19 response, defended the population-based formula on Friday, saying everywhere in the country needs vaccines, and that the administration did not want to shift more doses to hot-spots like Michigan.

"There are tens of millions of people across the country in each and every state and county who have not yet been vaccinated," Zients said. "And the fair and equitable way to distribute the vaccine is based on the adult population by state, tribe, and territory. That's how it's been done, and we will continue to do so."

"The virus is unpredictable," he added. "We don't know where the next increase in cases could occur."

As a majority of states have now opened vaccine eligibility to all adults, the problem in some parts of the country is starting to shift to supply exceeding demand rather than the other way around.

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"As demand starts to slacken, that's why we're going out to try to get people who are working in factories, it's why we're going out to go into churches, and all these other things," Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said at a news conference on Thursday.

Polls show Republicans are more resistant to get the vaccine than the population at large. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released at the end of March found 29 percent of Republicans said they would "definitely not" get the vaccine, compared to 13 percent of people overall.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has been urging members of his party to get vaccinated.

"As a Republican man, as soon as it was my turn, I took the vaccine," he said in late March at an event in Kentucky. "I would encourage all Republican men to do that."

As vaccinations progress, new cases are staying relatively steady on a national basis, though at a high level of around 65,000 per day. In Michigan, though, cases are spiking, as are hospitalizations, which have risen from about 850 at the beginning of March to over 3,000, according to data compiled by The New York Times.

The continuing toll of the virus, even with vaccines available, highlights the need to get them into arms as fast as possible.

"The biggest tragedy right now is that we have vaccines on hand that can prevent hospitalizations and death and when we see a rise in that it makes sense that we should act swiftly to try to prevent that from happening," said Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. "And so if there are states that are struggling more than others, I think it makes sense for them to get additional vaccines."

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