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Wisconsin expects first batch of COVID-19 vaccines soon, general public may not see it until mid-2021
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Wisconsin expects first batch of COVID-19 vaccines soon, general public may not see it until mid-2021

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Wisconsin health officials say the state could receive its first batch of almost 50,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine yet this month, but cautioned that it may not be until next summer before the general public can begin to receive vaccinations.

During a media call Monday with reporters, Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary with the state Department of Health Services, said the state expects to receive the first round of Pfizer’s vaccine — 49,725 doses have been allocated — in the coming weeks, once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration grants emergency approval.

“I anticipate we’ll be giving doses in December, it’s just what date in December we don’t yet know,” Van Dijk said.

An FDA panel is scheduled to publicly review the Pfizer vaccine Thursday, after which emergency authorization could follow, and take up another vaccine by Moderna next week. At least two others may be considered for approval later.

Van Dijk said she anticipates it will take “at least a couple months” to administer vaccines to the state’s roughly 450,000 health care workers, as well as long-term care facility residents. After that, priority will be given to other population groups that could include essential workers or those with at-risk conditions before the general public will be able to be immunized.

“This is going to spread over at least a similar period of time as our testing effort has to date and probably a little longer,” she said. “We’re looking into mid- to late-2021, I think is a really realistic goal for us to be thinking about. I know everybody is excited and we’d love to take our masks off by Valentine’s Day, but that’s just not going to happen.”

DHS reported 2,155 COVID-19 cases and another 19 deaths Monday, bringing the total to more than 414,000 cases and 3,738 deaths since the pandemic began. While average daily cases and hospitalization numbers have been trending down recently, state officials have warned of a potential surge in cases in the weeks following the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

COVID-19 hospitalizations, which have declined since a peak of 2,277 on Nov. 17, increased by 64 patients Monday, to 1,566, as health systems continue to be challenged in caring for patients with the coronavirus.

Hubs to distribute

Pfizer’s vaccine, which must be stored at an extremely cold temperature, will be distributed to facilities within a regional “hub and spoke” model. Vaccines will then be redistributed to smaller clinics surrounding the hub. State officials said they have enough storage for the vaccine, but have not indicated how many such facilities are in the state or where they are located.

Moderna’s vaccine, which also needs FDA approval, does not require the same kind of cold storage and would be distributed directly to vaccinators when available. Pfizer vaccines would require a second dose after three weeks, while Moderna’s vaccine requires a second dose after four weeks.

St. Mary’s Hospital and UW Health, both in Madison, will operate as regional distribution hubs for the Pfizer vaccine.

“These vaccines will be going to frontline healthcare workers first, and there are still uncertainties around the quantities we’ll get and the timing of their arrival,” Matt Anderson, senior medical director of ambulatory operations with UW Health, said in a statement. “The public must remain diligent as it will not be widely available anytime soon.”

Other groups

After health care workers and long-term care facility residents are vaccinated, other groups expected to receive priority may include other essential workers, people over the age of 65 and people with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease.

DHS will be encouraging all residents to get vaccinated for the coronavirus, but will not mandate immunization.

“Certainly we want to protect as many people as we can,” said Division of Health Immunization program manager Stephanie Schauer.

State officials also recommend a vaccine even if someone has already recovered from COVID-19.

Fave 5: State government reporter Mitchell Schmidt shares his top stories of 2020

Choosing my five favorite stories of 2020 seems almost paradoxical.

This year has felt like one exhausting slog of pandemic stories, state Legislature updates and, oh yeah, a presidential election thrown in for good measure. Thanks to a split government, there's been no shortage of politically-charged stories here in Wisconsin and the partisan divide has, maybe unsurprisingly, felt as wide as ever throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

I don't know if "favorite" is the best way to describe them, but here are a few stories from 2020 that stood out to me:

Back in March, Gov. Tony Evers issued the state's first public health emergency in response to the then-emerging pandemic. At the time, Wisconsin had reported eight total cases of COVID-19.

As the pandemic progressed, positive cases and deaths climbed and state lawmakers battled over the appropriate response. In May, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Evers' stay-at-home order, a decision that still resonates today with the state's coronavirus-related measures.

One story I was particularly excited about before I officially started working for the State Journal was the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee. However, like most things this year, the pandemic drastically altered that plan.

In non-pandemic news, the state in October formally denied billions of dollars in state tax credits to Foxconn Technology Group — a story we managed to get before any other outlet in the state through records requests and sourcing.

Lastly, in November I worked on a story about how GOP-drawn legislative maps once again disproportionately benefited Republicans in state elections. Wisconsin is headed toward another legal battle next year when the next batch of 10-year maps are drawn.

Feel free to read my top stories below, or check out my other state government articles from this year, (by my count, there have been more than 300 so far).

Also, thanks to all the subscribers out there. This year has been challenging on so many people, so your support is so much appreciated.

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