Following holiday slowdown, state will ‘ramp up’ vaccine administration, DHS says

85,609 have been given to people in Wisconsin, state says

Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee held a COVID vaccine clinic for frontline workers on Dec. 15. Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee held a COVID vaccine clinic for frontline workers on Dec. 15. (Photo: Advocate Aurora Health)

Last updated on January 6th, 2021 at 02:16 pm

In the four weeks since Wisconsin began its effort to vaccinate the state’s roughly 450,000 frontline health care workers, just over 85,600 doses have been administered, according to data released Tuesday afternoon by the Department of Health Services. 

DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said that number should “ramp up” significantly in the coming weeks as the number of registered vaccinators in the state has grown from 50 in the beginning of December to more than 1,000 today. 

Still, the state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has drawn some frustration, along with comparisons to other Midwestern states that have administered more vaccine doses on a per capita basis, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. 

The CDC data, which lags by a few hours the DHS data released Tuesday afternoon, indicates Wisconsin has administered 1,158 first COVID-19 vaccine doses per 100,000 residents. That’s compared to neighboring states Minnesota (1,531 per 100,000), Iowa (1,906) and Illinois (1,394). Michigan’s rate is lower than Wisconsin’s, at 992 per 100,000, according to the CDC.  

Wisconsin’s vaccination rate is slightly above the national average, Palm noted, but said state-by-state data comparisons are hard to draw because of lags in reporting and differences in vaccine distribution approaches. 

As of Tuesday afternoon, 420,200 vaccine doses have been allocated to the state, 266,675 have been distributed to vaccinators and 85,609 have been administered to people. 

“I think across the country you are hearing and seeing legitimate concern about the efficiency of vaccines getting in arms,” Palm said. “I think we all are committed to doing what we need to do … as we build these planes as we’re flying them.”

Palm said of the state’s total allocation, 106,900 doses have been reserved for the state’s long-term care vaccination program, helping explain the discrepancy between its vaccine allocation and distribution numbers. The program, which is a public-private partnership with Walgreens and CVS, is providing onsite COVID-19 vaccination for all residents and staff of the state’s skilled nursing and assisted living facilities. 

Skilled nursing facilities are first priority in that program, and getting a first dose of the vaccine to all residents and workers in those settings is expected to take until the end of the month. Assisted living facilities will begin receiving the vaccine after that. 

The state will need about 140,000 doses for the assisted living phase of the program, Palm said. 

“The feds have us put them (vaccine doses) essentially in a bank, in a reserve so that we are able to have enough for sort of a down payment to trigger the program and get it started,” Palm said. 

A slowdown over the holidays has also played a factor in the state’s vaccination rate, Palm said. The state DHS data show notable drops in vaccine administration from Dec. 24-27 and Jan. 1-3. 

“I think the holiday season is over and it is now certainly time to ramp up and make sure that we are pushing that vaccine that vaccinators have through the system and into arms as quickly and as safely as possible,” Palm said. 

Palm estimated on Tuesday that it will take through February to vaccinate everyone in the state’s highest-priority tier, which includes frontline health care workers and long-term care residents. 

Advocate Aurora Health said more than 26,000 of its employees in Wisconsin and Illinois have received the first dose of the vaccine, as of Tuesday morning. The health system, which has dual headquarters in Milwaukee and Downers Grove, Illinois, has about 70,000 employees. Advocate Aurora said in a Twitter post that employees of Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee started receiving their second dose of the vaccine this week. 

Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network had administered the first vaccine dose to 5,300 employees as of Monday afternoon. The system, which has about 20,000 employees across Froedtert and MCW, has invited 16,800 employees to schedule a vaccine appointment to date. 

The state could launch mobile vaccination clinic options later this month, which would help fill a gap among health care workers and independent physicians not associated with larger health systems, Palm said. 

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