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Vaccine registration system a dismal patchwork

It’s a long road to 70 percent.

That’s the mark health officials say we need to hit with vaccine inoculations to build herd immunity against COVID-19. And after the first few weeks of vaccine distribution, it feels even further away as public health officials struggle to move doses from inventory to arms.

It’s probably the most important arms race our state and nation have ever faced, and we can’t help feeling like we’re falling behind.

It’s especially frustrating in Michigan where it appears state public health leaders haven’t yet managed to institute any sort of uniform registration and scheduling system. Worse, many of the systems in place have buckled at the first whiff of demand as health officials began allowing wider vaccination of people 65 and older.

In fact, Record-Eagle reporters have heard firsthand accounts from some places where the only avenue to register for vaccination was an understaffed phone line.

By Wednesday, only 2.9 percent of Michiganders had received at least their first of two vaccine shots. And only 38 percent of the 772,000 doses sent to the state had been administered.

That translation from vial to inoculation is, frankly, too slow. It’s also a rate of distribution that seems doomed to continue so long as health departments are left to overcome technological hurdles related to recipient registration.

Think about it this way, less than 18 percent of Michiganders are older than 65, yet health department vaccine registration systems crashed precipitously as officials opened the window for people in that demographic to secure their place in line for a shot.

Sure, national, state and local public health officials have had their hands full during the past 10 months. Local public health workers especially are stretched to the breaking point, and have found themselves perpetually under resourced. They’re also the people we know will step up to the challenge of the coming mass vaccination.

Maybe that’s why we’re a bit befuddled at the fact the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services didn’t have even a basic, useable vaccine registration system in place in all 83 counties before the vaccine arrived. Instead, it appears state public health officials’ best plans for simple, orderly vaccine registration were about as effective as unemployment officials’ strategy for getting payments to the millions who were suddenly unemployed when the coronavirus was first detected in the state in March.

Such a lack of preparation threatens to undercut the people on the ground who will spend the next 10 or more months doing their best to push Michigan’s vaccination rate to the herd immunity mark.

It’s also the kind of failure that promises to create the kind of gaps our more vulnerable neighbors will fall through.

Don’t get us wrong, either. We’re glad Michigan isn’t falling victim to the disasters-in-the-making in some states — take a look at Florida and New York. In Florida, some connected nursing home board members and donors were allowed to cut the line. And in New York, precious vaccine doses were thrown in the trash when officials couldn’t find recipients to fit the state’s strict guidelines.

Still, we’re not encouraged by the disuniformity that seems to define Michigan’s vaccine distribution system thus far.

Let’s face it, creating an orderly line doesn’t take a degree in rocket science, but it does take leadership.

And Michiganders need to know where the line forms.

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