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COVID-19 vaccination in nursing homes to start in Wisconsin this week
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COVID-19 vaccination in nursing homes to start in Wisconsin this week

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Getting shot ready

Susan Johnston, pharmacy manager for UW Health's Pharmaceutical Research Center, prepares a shot of COVID-19 vaccine.

Nursing home residents and staff, who have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, are scheduled to be vaccinated in Wisconsin starting this week — followed next month by those in assisted living facilities.

The pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens are expected to use some of Wisconsin’s allotment of the recently approved Moderna vaccine to begin immunizing about 28,500 residents and a similar number of staff at the state’s 360 nursing homes as early as Monday.

“They’ve been on the front line day after day,” said John Sauer, CEO of LeadingAge Wisconsin, which represents nursing homes and assisted living facilities. “The vaccine offers the pathway to defeating the virus and returning to a sense of normalcy.”

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities make up 1% of Wisconsin’s COVID-19 cases but account for 26% of the deaths.

After CVS and Walgreens provide the first dose of the two-dose vaccine to nursing home residents and staff who want it, they plan to start giving initial shots to the roughly 67,000 residents and a similar number of staff at the state’s 4,500 or so assisted living facilities, Sauer said. That will likely be before the end of January, he said.

CVS and Walgreens haven’t identified which nursing homes might be first in line for vaccination Monday, Sauer said, and Madison-area facilities have been given a range of tentative dates. Wisconsin was expected to receive 16,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine last week out of 101,000 doses anticipated in coming weeks, a fraction of which is being set aside for inoculations at nursing homes.

Smaller pharmacies, such as O’Connell Pharmacy in Sun Prairie, which has regular long-term care clients, also will immunize some residents and staff, but likely not until January, said Holly Altenberger, O’Connell’s pharmacy director.

At Capitol Lakes in Downtown Madison, Walgreens has said it hopes to start vaccinating sometime this week, said Tim Conroy, executive director.

It will take three visits by Walgreens to vaccinate those among the facility’s 290 nursing home staff and residents who want to be immunized, Conroy said.

“It is a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Conroy, though residents and staff will need to keep wearing masks and taking other preventive measures for months. “We do hope this will allow for residents to receive visitors and get some of the social aspects of their lives back.”

About two-thirds of the 270 employees at SSM Health St. Mary’s Care Center in Verona have already been immunized through SSM Health’s allocation for health care workers, said administrator Karen Hayden.

Nearly all of the 127 residents, or their family members or guardians, have given verbal consent for vaccination, Hayden said. Walgreens has said it will start vaccinating Jan. 7, when written consent will be obtained.

“We’re all so excited — the residents, families and all of our staff — to start this process,” she said. “We’ve had resounding response, positive response, from families and the residents themselves.”

Skaalen Retirement Services in Stoughton is working with CVS, said Skaalen CEO Kris Krentz. The pharmacy said it might come Jan. 7 to provide the first dose to the 350 residents and staff who want it and Feb. 4 for the second dose, though the dates are tentative, Krentz said.

“We’re finally getting to this point after nine months,” he said. “Everybody is just so tired and exhausted from this whole ordeal; they just want it to end.”

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