Cheboygan County has vaccinated nearly 5,000 people against COVID-19, according to the most recent data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services -- but according to that same data, the county has only received 700 vaccine doses.
“Obviously this doesn’t make sense,” said Devin Spivey, who directs community health and epidemiology for District Health Department No. 4, which includes Cheboygan and three other northeast Michigan counties.
Spivey and health district spokesperson Cathy Goike said WCMU News first brought the data discrepancy to their attention.
But Spivey said a closer look reveals what’s going on: The state data only follow vaccine doses as far as their delivery to a local health department.
In the state’s most populous regions, many health departments cover only one county, so the initial delivery is to the same county where the vaccine will be administered. But in rural areas, like where Spivey works, several counties are included in one health district.
Initially, she said, the state was sending vaccine allotments to every county in the district individually. But that meant frequent trips back and forth across the region in an effort to get vaccines to the clinics that needed them most.
Now, the vaccines are all delivered to a central location in Alpena County, and health district workers distribute them from there -- but the state’s numbers don’t reflect that system.
"We're very on top of where our vaccine is," said Spivey. "It might be one of those things where this data that we think is helpful to show people, is actually confusing them."
She said in a health district that covers as much territory as hers, it’s essential to avoid sending vaccine doses on multiple trips: once opened, a vial has to be discarded after 6 hours.
Other public health leaders in Michigan suggested more reasons that doses administered could be slightly higher than doses received.
State health department spokesperson Lynn Sutfin said the state’s numbers reflect where people live, not where they were vaccinated. For example, she said, areas where a lot of health care workers live in one county but work in another could have data that appears misleading.
The Ottawa County public health department, where data shows it’s administered about 30% more doses than it’s received, said extra doses that are in some vaccine vials could explain a good part of that discrepancy.
But in Cheboygan County, where state records show an almost 600% gap between doses administered and doses received, Spivey said the best explanation is that the state loses sight of vaccines once they’re delivered to the local health department.