CEO Report – The Road Ahead on COVID-19 Vaccine

Posted on February 01, 2021

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

MHA CEO Brian PetersThe long-awaited game-changer in the fight against COVID-19 arrived last December when emergency use authorizations were granted for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. As we begin Black History Month, I’m very pleased to share that Michigan hospitals have now administered more than half a million COVID-19 vaccine doses, representing well over half of the state’s total, according to data provided by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. In short, hospitals have played a vital role throughout this pandemic, and now they are leading the way delivering COVID-19 vaccine to our communities. 

It was predictable that, in the early stages of this process, demand would far outpace supply, and that has certainly been the case here. Equally predictable was the complexity — and resulting operational and communication challenges — that accompany a rollout of such unprecedented scale. I am proud of the MHA’s efforts on this front and am pleased that our own Ruthanne Sudderth, MHA senior vice president of public affairs and communications, has just been appointed to Gov. Whitmer’s bipartisan Protect Michigan Commission, which will serve as yet another avenue to provide input and guidance to the state’s ongoing vaccination campaign. MHA Chair-elect Tina Freese Decker, president and CEO of Spectrum Health, was also appointed as a co-chair of this new body.

Last month’s CEO Report focused on the theme of optimism, and I am going to take an optimistic view here: despite the obvious hurdles that we are still confronting daily, we will reach a point in the not-too-distant future when supply will catch up to demand. That is a good thing. But what happens next is a real concern — when supply actually exceeds demand, precisely because of a phenomenon with which any experienced healthcare provider or executive is familiar: vaccine hesitancy.

Recently, the Ad Council and COVID Collaborative shared the results of research they conducted on vaccine hesitancy among Americans, which identified three key drivers of hesitancy.

  1. Concerns about safety and side effects from COVID-19 vaccination, driven by the speed of the clinical development process and the vaccines’ novelty.
  2. Lack of knowledge.
  3. Distrust in the political and economic motives of the government and corporations.

Their research also specifically identified high levels of hesitancy among African Americans, due to historical unethical practices in medical research and healthcare inequities, and Hispanics, due to a lack of confidence in the information they’ve received. These insights are evidence that we must do better to meet our goal of reaching herd immunity in 2021.

Across our country and state, healthcare professionals are stepping up to build that requisite trust. Social media feeds have been filled by front-line workers sharing their experience receiving the vaccine, such as Spectrum Health Lakeland Security Officer Kenney Booth sharing that his motivation behind being vaccinated was the ability to see his grandchildren. Each post, photo and video like Kenney’s helps move the needle.

Vaccine hesitancy among people of color is also aided by learning about Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a National Institutes of Health research fellow leading vaccine development, who was instrumental in providing the key ingredient for the Moderna vaccine. And then there are individuals like Herbert C. Smitherman Jr., vice dean and professor at the Wayne State University School of Medicine/Detroit Medical Center, who both raised attention around vaccine hesitancy and used his experience as a Black physician in Detroit to explain why communities of color need to be vaccinated in an op-ed from Bridge. A personal side note: Dr. Smitherman was my classmate and friend at the University of Michigan School of Public Health many years ago and, without question, was one of the class stars.   

It also helps to explain how these vaccines were able to be developed in a quicker manner than in the past. As the leader of a healthcare advocacy organization, two of the largest barriers we encounter are bureaucratic red tape and funding. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are available today because bureaucratic hurdles that have no impact on the safety or efficacy of the vaccine were removed and all necessary funding was provided. No corners were cut that would jeopardize the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, and each vaccine was properly reviewed and vetted by health and medical experts and authorized by the FDA based on clinical testing.

Finally on this issue, we have partnered closely with the state of Michigan throughout the pandemic. In late January, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services launched a statewide paid media campaign to inform Michiganders about the COVID-19 vaccine. As Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health (and herself a Black physician), said: “We want all Michiganders to get the facts about this safe and effective vaccine and the steps that were taken to develop it. I am grateful and proud to have gotten both doses of my vaccine and I urge Michiganders to make a plan and get vaccinated when it is their turn. This is the way forward out of the pandemic and our chance to return to a sense of normalcy.”

While we need to address vaccine hesitancy and administer COVID-19 vaccines as quickly as possible to slow the spread of the disease, we also need to do so in an equitable manner to eliminate barriers that can prevent different audiences, including communities of color, from receiving the vaccine.

This can be specifically addressed for COVID-19 by how vaccine is allocated and the outreach conducted by providers to ensure vaccine access for everyone. However, more can be done to address health disparities that have contributed to COVID-19 impacting communities of color at disproportionally higher rates. This is why the MHA’s ongoing efforts to address health disparities and to achieve health equity is so important. I can promise that we are deeply committed to this important work.  

During Black History Month, let us take this opportunity to not only reflect on those influential Black leaders of the past, but salute and empower those leaders across our state and nation who are currently going to great lengths to ensure health equity for all — including equity in our COVID-19 vaccine efforts.

As always, I welcome your thoughts. 


  • CEO Report – The Road Ahead on COVID-19 Vaccine

Tags: Brian Peters, MDHHS, Ruthanne Sudderth, Spectrum Health Lakeland, Joneigh Khaldun, COVID-19 vaccine, Black History Month

Posted in: MHA Rounds

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