Evers calls on feds to release more COVID-19 vaccine doses

Gov. Tony Evers
Gov. Tony Evers

Last updated on January 13th, 2021 at 11:25 am

Gov. Tony Evers joined a group of governors calling on the federal government to release more COVID-19 vaccine doses to their states, saying it has held back supply.

The eight Democratic governors alleged in a letter Friday that the federal government has “upwards of 50% of currently produced vaccines held back by the administration for reasons unknown.”

“The failure to distribute those doses to states who request them is unconscionable and unacceptable,” the governors wrote in a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar. “We demand that the federal government begin distributing these reserved doses to states immediately.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services could not immediately be reached for comment. The Trump Administration is reported to be holding back shipments of the vaccine to ensure there is enough supply for the second of the two-dose shot. President-elect Joe Biden on Friday said he would release nearly all available vaccine when he takes office.

Wisconsin Department of Health Services officials raised concerns during a call with reporters Thursday that the state’s vaccine supply is the limiting factor in administering the vaccine more widely.

Wisconsin is currently receiving roughly 70,000 doses of vaccine weekly but will need about two to three times that amount to meet the target of vaccinating the wider public in the summer and achieving herd immunity in the fall.

The state is in phase 1A of its rollout plan, which involves vaccinating the state’s roughly 500,000 frontline health care workers and those in long-term care settings.

“This is the startup phase of this effort,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the Department of Health Services. “And in order for us to get to herd immunity … we’re going to have to increase the pace of this.”

To meet Biden’s goal of administering 1 million doses a day for his first 100 days in office, Willems Van Dijk said the state would need 126,000 doses weekly, or 18,000 doses daily.

“We don’t have enough supply to open the gates much wider and be able to meet the need,” Willems Van Dijk said.

To vaccinate the general public this summer, the state will need a higher supply of Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines and yet-to-be approved vaccines from other manufacturers, such as Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, Willems Van Dijk said.

The state’s vaccine rollout has drawn criticism, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data indicates Wisconsin is behind several other Midwestern states in administering the vaccine.

DHS officials reported Thursday that the pace of vaccinations in Wisconsin has picked up since the holidays.

Willems Van Dijk said about 6,000 doses were administered Monday, followed by 8,000 on Tuesday and 11,600 Wednesday. Data on the DHS website today indicates another 8,827 vaccines were administered in the state on Thursday, bringing the state total to 123,402 vaccines administered.

Willems Van Dijk said the state is on pace to begin phase 1B before the end of the month. The state has not yet finalized who will be included in that group, but it’s likely to include people who are 75 and older and non-health care frontline essential workers. Phase 1C will likely people ages 65-74, those with high-risk medical conditions and other essential workers.

As part of phase 1A, the state is partnering with Walgreens and CVS on a federal program to provide onsite COVID-19 vaccination for all residents and staff of the state’s skilled nursing and assisted living facilities.

Nursing homes are first priority in that program. All residents and workers are expected to receive their first dose before the end of the month. The state will begin vaccinating assisted living residents and workers on Jan. 25.

DHS officials say the state has had to set aside vaccine doses to prepare for the rollout of the long-term care partnership program. About 140,000 doses are needed for the assisted living phase of the program. To date, the state has reserved about 50,000 doses and will reserve another 90,000 doses over the next four weeks.

State officials say that is one reason it has only administered 123,402 of the 420,200 vaccines that have been allocated to Wisconsin. Willems Van Dijk said some of the 266, 675 doses that have been shipped to the state are in transit to distribution sites.

Willems Van Dijk noted that Wisconsin has the fourth-highest population in assisted living facilities nationally, which has meant it’s taken longer to bank enough vaccine doses to initiate the state’s assisted living vaccine program than other states.

The state’s vaccine allocation is currently determined by the federal government based on its population, and the state then determines where those doses will go.

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