Fewer than 86,000 Wisconsin residents had been vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Tuesday — less than a fifth of those in top priority groups — leading Republican lawmakers to press Democratic Gov. Tony Evers for a speedier rollout as his administration said the effort is ramping up.
“Without a transparent and efficient plan, the governor is repeating the mistakes he made with unemployment insurance,” state Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said in a statement, referring to the struggle the state faced resolving a backlog of claims.
Secretary of Health Services Andrea Palm said more than 1,000 providers are registered to give the shots, up from fewer than 50 a month ago, and the state plans to start a mobile vaccination effort this month. The pace of vaccination depends in part on federal shipments, she said.
“We’re still early in this process. We will continue to improve as we go forward,” Palm said. Everyone eventually will be able to be immunized, but “for the foreseeable future, demand for vaccine is going to outstretch availability,” she said.
Meanwhile, a state committee debated whether to include inmates and college instructors along with the elderly, first responders and K-12 teachers in groups to follow health care workers and nursing homes residents in getting the limited supply of vaccine.
If prisoners get priority over grocery store or public transit workers, “that’s where you’re going to get the backlash,” said Tom Harter, a Gundersen Health System bioethicist who is on the vaccine distribution subcommittee of the State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee.
The state Department of Health Services said 85,609 people had received the vaccine, less than a fifth of the roughly 450,000 health care workers and nursing home residents who have been given highest priority.
Some 420,200 doses have been allocated to Wisconsin, but 106,900 of them are set aside for nursing homes and assisted-living facilities and 35,100 are expected to come next week as second doses for those already immunized, the health department said.
A total of nearly 267,000 doses have been shipped to the state. Of those administered, 64,674 doses have been of Pfizer’s vaccine and 20,935 doses have been of Moderna’s vaccine.
As of Monday, 13,936 people in Dane County had been vaccinated, said Sarah Mattes, spokeswoman for Public Health Madison and Dane County. The city-county health department gave nearly 1,000 doses last week, mostly to emergency medical services workers, and has nearly 1,200 appointments this week, Mattes said.
Palm said the state hopes to finish vaccinating health care workers and nursing home residents by February, but that timeline is not clear.
“Some of this is dependent on our weekly allocation from the federal government, which we know almost in real time for the following week,” she said.
Palm said reports that Wisconsin is lagging behind other Midwest states in administering COVID-19 vaccine are misleading because the data compared aren’t always the same.
Darling asked the health department to release vaccination data more quickly and to provide more details about its vaccination plan.
“How is (the Department of Health Services) communicating information to the hubs, hospitals, providers, first responders, and nursing homes relating to the timing of their vaccinations?” she said in a list of questions.
The vaccine subcommittee, which advises the health department, debated which groups should qualify for phase 1b of the vaccination process, following health care workers and nursing home residents in phase 1a.
People 75 and older, first responders, K-12 teachers and corrections workers should come next, the state group said, in accordance with recommendations last month from a federal advisory group.
But a survey by members of the state committee put residents of congregate settings such as group homes, people ages 65 to 74 and incarcerated populations ahead of public transit, grocery store and food and agricultural workers, unlike the federal advisory group.
“Jails really serve as a public health network or umbrella” for people who have a hard time getting health care elsewhere, said Mary Muse, chief nursing officer for the state Department of Corrections, in advocating for inmates to get priority.
But Dr. Edward Belongia, an epidemiologist at Marshfield Clinic Research Institute, said high turnover in jails means many inmates might not return for second doses of the vaccine. “There’s a resource cost to do that. There’s a complexity cost,” he said.
The committee, which meets again Friday, also discussed whether to add faculty and instructors at universities and technical colleges to the group including K-12 teachers and staff.
Fave 5: Reporter David Wahlberg picks his top stories of 2020
My year as the State Journal's health reporter has been consumed by COVID-19. I've covered many coronavirus developments and media briefings, but the stories that stand out most to me are those showing the humanity of the pandemic.
Four of my five picks are about people fighting COVID-19 or those who succumbed to it. The fifth, from that hard-to-recall time of January, looks at new genetic testing and treatment for spinal muscular atrophy, a rare muscle-wasting disease.
This story shows the promise, but also the cost, of cutting-edge developments for a rare disease.
The risks health care workers face treating COVID-19 affect their families too.
2020 has been no picnic for leaders of local health departments.
My first glimpse inside a hospital COVID-19 unit came as hospitalizations soared.