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Supply shortage delays COVID-19 vaccination clinics for teachers in Dane County
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Supply shortage delays COVID-19 vaccination clinics for teachers in Dane County

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COVID-19 vaccination clinics for teachers and child care workers will be delayed by at least two weeks due to shortages in vaccine supply, the joint Madison and Dane County public health department said Thursday, although state officials say the health department is free to use what limited vaccine it does get for educators beginning Monday.

The clinics at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison had been expected to start the first week of March. But in an email Wednesday night to schools and child care providers, Public Health Madison and Dane County said the soonest those vaccinations will be prioritized for teachers and child care workers is March 19.

The news comes as the county’s largest school district, in Madison, is set to bring back some elementary schoolers next month for in-person learning.

Public Health said in a statement Thursday that under a new vaccine-allocation directive from the state Department of Health Services, “the county received only 12% of its requested vaccine doses this week” but none for its plan to start vaccinating teachers.

Last week, the agency said it had requested 7,000 doses of vaccine for the week of March 1 and 7,000 doses for the week of March 8 specifically for about 14,000 K-12 staff.

Instead of beginning to vaccinate teachers, Public Health said that over the next two weeks, it will use the vaccine it does receive to inoculate the remaining frontline health care workers and those 65 and older who under state guidelines were given first priority for the vaccine.

During a conference call with reporters on Thursday, DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said Public Health doesn’t have to wait until March 19 to vaccinate teachers, and that the agency “is welcome to use vaccine for educators that they receive through the normal allocation process the week of March 1 and March 8.”

But Public Health spokesperson Sarah Mattes said it will not be doing that.

“We are still working through thousands of people on our 65-plus list,” she said.

Teachers and child care workers will still be eligible to get the vaccine starting Monday, in line with state guidelines, but they’d need to to find an alternate clinic, health care provider or pharmacy with available doses. Public Health estimates there are about 15,000 school staff in Dane County, but some of them have already been vaccinated because they are over 65.

Willems Van Dijk said local health departments were submitting plans Thursday for vaccinating teachers, and DHS will create a master schedule so each of the 85 departments and more than 425 school districts will know when over the next six weeks or so they’ll get vaccine specifically for teachers.

She said her department had recently started asking vaccinators how many doses they needed in coming weeks, and in mid-February asked if they had events planned in the first two weeks of March to vaccinate teachers or others in their priority group.

“We were clear we were not promising them vaccine,” she said. “We were simply trying to assess how many vaccine doses people were hoping to get out in those first two weeks.”

Requested doses escalated to nearly 400,000 overall statewide, she said, and “everybody thought they were going to be able to do everybody the first few weeks of March. And that, of course, simply is not feasible given the vaccine supply we have here.”

DHS then decided to come up with a new plan for distributing vaccine for teachers that would be fair statewide, she said.

Currently eligible for vaccination in Wisconsin are those over 65, frontline health workers, nursing home and long-term care residents and staff, emergency responders and prison staff. Those working in education and child care were to be the first to be prioritized in the next eligible group, beginning Monday, according to the DHS. That group also includes people in Medicaid long-term care programs, grocery workers and those in group-living settings.

While many public schools in Dane County began reopening in recent months to some in-person learning, and many private schools have been in-person since September, Madison public school students won’t begin returning to the classroom until March 9, when kindergartners go back. First- and second-graders are set to return March 16 and 4-year-old kindergarten students on March 23.

District spokesperson Tim LeMonds said Thursday that the dates for students returning to school buildings haven’t changed due to the delay in teacher vaccinations, but that teachers are being allowed to return to buildings later than initially planned.

Staff for grades 4K through second will need to return to buildings by Wednesday, he said, while those for grades three through five must return by March 8.

Recent studies have shown that schools are not main sources of COVID-19 transmission and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released school-reopening guidance that does not say teacher vaccination must occur before schools reopen but urges vaccination as soon as supply allows.

Public Health said it would let schools and child care centers know when it would start vaccinations.

State Journal reporter David Wahlberg contributed to this report.


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