About 18 months into the coronavirus pandemic, roughly 61% of all Americans have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. In some states, however, the share of vaccinated people is as low as 43.6%. Debra Furr-Holden explains how public health leaders in Michigan are teaming up with nonprofits and other partners to encourage more people in their states and local communities to get vaccinated. 

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prison

The Michigan Department of Corrections says COVID-19 vaccines are encouraged but not required for inmates or workers. The department’s data show at least 65% percent of inmates are fully vaccinated, but state officials say they are not keeping a tally of vaccinated corrections workers. "The state hasn’t done enough to keep prisoners safe,” shares Dr. Debra Furr-Holden. 

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Dr. Debra Furr-Holden

Blame systems, not individuals. Dr. Debra Furr-Holden talks to The Guardian about the importance of collecting race and ethnicity data in Covid-19 cases and the significance of state and federal interventions. Said Dr. Furr-Holden, “Michigan is the only state that I know of that transparently reported the racial disparities in Covid early on and also closed the gap.”

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COVID-19 data

Epidemiologists say it is critical to understand how breakthrough cases might be affecting different demographic populations — including different age groups and racial groups, groups that received different vaccines, and groups that received their vaccines earlier in the year versus later in the year. “At this point, we are not trying to eradicate Covid. We are now trying to figure out how to mitigate its impact.” said Dr. Debra Furr-Holden. 

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Spartan helmet

“Public health is not about people getting sick. Public health is about preventing people from getting sick in the first place. And for us to do that well, we’ve got to give the vaccine a chance to be prevalent in the community," Dr. Debra Furr-Holden spoke with Michigan Radio about Michigan’s bright red spot on a heat map of the nation has to do with a few factors: re-opening, vaccines and variants. 

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Covid-19 and Michigan

Dr. Debra Furr-Holden shares her thoughts on the Covid-19 surge in Michigan with the New York Times. “What it looks like happened is she (Gov. Whitmer) tried to be fair and meet us in the middle,” said Furr-Holden, who was appointed last year by Whitmer to the state’s Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities. 

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Dr. Darline El Reda

With an increase in infection rates, epidemiologists discuss the root of the cause,"The thing I worry about, what if Michigan is foreshadowing what other states will see at a later point in time?" said Dr. Darline El Reda, adjunct professor of public health at Michigan State University. "That’s a potential hypothesis as well."

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Shopping during Covid-19

“We are in real risk of throwing away all the gains we have made, and losing another summer,” Dr. Debra Furr-Holden told BuzzFeed News. Michigan, as well as the Upper Midwest and the Northeast, is in the thick of massive COVID-19 outbreaks. Some counties reopened bars, gyms, and restaurants too early, Furr-Holden believes, which in her view should serve as a warning to the rest of the country. 

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Dr. Debra Furr-Holden

Dr. Debra Furr-Holden says it’s important that vaccine distribution efforts in the state continue in order to reach herd immunity. “The thing about us getting to herd immunity is we've got to have a significant proportion of the population immune at the same time,” she said. But, she explains, officials say the concept of “herd immunity” is a complicated.  

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Dr. Rick Sadler

Michigan ranks second in U.K. variant cases behind Florida. Epidemiologist Dr. Rick Sadler said the vaccine is playing a vital role. “I think the appetite is shrinking for imposing more restrictions,” Sadler said. “It is a race against time as the U.K. variant grips the state of Michigan. It’s both more contagious and potentially more deadly. There’s not a ton of data on it yet, but that could be very concerning.”

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Dr. Debra Furr-Holden

To address Michigan’s glaring inequities, Governor Whitmer signed an executive order creating the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities."It’s important you do work with people and not on their behalf without their inclusion," said Debra Furr-Holden, Ph.D. She talks with Self magazine about the task force, on which she serves, which was created in response to high COVID-19 infection and death rates among African Americans. 

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B.1.1.7 COVID Variant

The highly contagious B 1.1.7 COVID-19 variant can spread up to 50% faster, potentially leading to a higher number of cases and hospitalizations. Local doctors say to follow these simple steps: “The three things that people need to do. We call them the three W’s: wash your hands, wear your masks and watch your distance,” said Dr. Debra Furr-Holden.

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