Health systems in Wisconsin begin vaccinating frontline workers

Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center began vaccinating employees on Dec. 15.

Last updated on December 18th, 2020 at 11:05 am

An emergency department physician at Aurora Sinai Medical Center was the first Advocate Aurora Health employee to receive the COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday.

The Milwaukee- and Downers Grove, Illinois-based health system began distributing the Pfizer vaccine Tuesday to frontline clinicians, including those working in emergency departments, intensive care units and other setting with COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Anne Johnson, an emergency department physician at Aurora Sinai Medical Center, was the first in the Advocate Aurora system to be vaccinated on Dec. 15.

Distributing the vaccine to Advocate Aurora’s first-priority employee group is expected to take four to six weeks, depending on supply, according to Robert Citronberg, director of the division of infectious disease at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.

The state of Wisconsin is receiving 49,725 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week. Just under 200 COVID vaccinations have been reported to the state’s immunization registry as of noon Wednesday, said Andrea Palm, secretary-designee of the Department of Health Services.

“With the small amount of vaccine arriving in Wisconsin this week, we are starting with a small number of providers to help ensure safe and efficient distribution,” Palm said.

Palm said her department does not yet know how many Pfizer doses the state will receive next week.

Moderna’s COVID vaccine is scheduled to be reviewed by an FDA committee on Thursday.  Wisconsin is set to receive 101,000 doses from Moderna next week, which will be administered to long-term care workers and residents and other health care workers.

Shipments of the Pfizer vaccine – and Moderna vaccine, upon its approval – are expected to increase over the coming weeks as more supply becomes available.

Ascension Wisconsin plans to hold its first vaccine clinic for frontline caregivers, including associates and affiliated physicians and providers, on Thursday.

Both Ascension and Advocate Aurora have said they don’t plan to require employees to get vaccinated, but are strongly encouraging them to do so. While employers are allowed to institute mandatory vaccination policies, with exceptions for those with health complications or religious objections, it’s expected that they will use a lighter touch by incentivizing employees to get the COVID vaccine.

“We are confident our plan will effectively and safely contribute to the protection of the communities we are privileged to serve,” said Dr. Greg Brusko, chief clinical officer of Ascension Wisconsin. “As we await widespread distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines, it will be critical for our entire community to continue wearing masks, keeping distance from others and washing hands frequently to protect ourselves and those around us.”

UW Health received its first shipment of the vaccine, which included nearly 4,000 doses, on Monday morning and began administering it that afternoon.

Froedert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network and Children’s Wisconsin have not yet publicly announced employee vaccination plans.

Waukesha-based Capri Communities, which manages 25 long-term care campuses in the greater Milwaukee and Madison areas, said it plans to begin administering the Moderna vaccine on-site to residents and workers on Dec. 28, pending its emergency use authorization by the FDA.

The distribution will be done in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Walgreens and CVS, which will provide on-site vaccination of long-term care facilities, beginning with skilled nursing centers.

Capri’s residents and employees at its assisted living and memory care campuses will be first priority.

“After nearly 10 long months of protecting our residents – both physically and mentally – knowing that vaccines have arrived in Wisconsin is an incredible sense of relief,” said Geri Krupp-Gordon, chief operating officer of Capri Communities. “We look forward to making this available as soon as possible to our residents who want to participate.”

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Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits and education for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism. In her free time, Lauren enjoys hiking, kayaking, and seeing live music.

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