How Wisconsinites 65 years and older can access the COVID-19 vaccine

Last updated on January 22nd, 2021 at 12:13 pm

While Wisconsinites 65 and older will soon be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, state health officials are cautioning that those eager to get a shot should brace for themselves for a wait.

Those in the 65-plus group – which amounts to roughly 700,000 people in Wisconsin – should expect to schedule an appointment within the next couple of months, Department of Health Services deputy secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said on a call with reporters Tuesday.

Supply will pay a major factor in how quickly older residents can get vaccinated, she said. The state currently receives 70,000 doses a week and is about halfway through phase 1A of its vaccine rollout.

“At this time, we don’t have anything to indicate to us that we are going to have a huge new supply of vaccine any time soon,” Willems Van Dijk said.

Local health care providers are taking steps to meet the increase in demand beginning Jan. 25, when eligibility opens to those 65 and older, but they are also waiting for word on how much vaccine supply they will receive.

Health systems are prioritizing existing patients in their initial rollout to that population.

The Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin system said it will begin vaccinating patients who are 65 years or older and who have a primary care provider with the network on Jan. 25. When vaccine is available, patients will be notified via MyChart, email or printed letter.

“Based on availability of the vaccine, we will then expand to those who are 65 years of age or older and who do not have a primary care provider with us. We will continue to work and collaborate with national, regional and local health care organizations to help manage the health care needs of the community including working with FQHCs and other community partners to help get their patients access to the vaccine,” Froedtert & MCW said.

Ascension Wisconsin said it is reviewing medical records for all its existing patients and contacting those who are eligible to set up vaccine appointments. Patients should wait to be contacted rather than call about an appointment, said Dr. Gregory Brusko, chief clinical officer of Ascension Wisconsin.

Advocate Aurora Health is encouraging patients to use its LiveWell app to receive information about a vaccination appointment. Existing patients will “receive a direct communication” to schedule their vaccine, the health system said.

“Once notified with your vaccination code, we encourage you to visit the app regularly as we will continue to increase vaccine appointments as we receive more vaccine supply,” Advocate Aurora said. “Along with other health providers and business partners, we will expand vaccinations to the broader community in line with these phased guidelines as supplies become available.”

Those 65 years and older can begin registering for a vaccine appointment at the Wisconsin Center beginning Thursday at HealthyMKE.com. Health commissioner Marlaina Jackson said the city plans to increase its vaccination services to seven days a week at the center beginning next week to meet demand.

Last week, Michigan-based retailer Meijer opened up registration for people to receive vaccinations at its stores. Meijer has 12 locations in southeastern Wisconsin.

Stephanie Schauer, Division of Public Health immunization program manager, noted that commercial pharmacies CVS and Walgreens are focused on deploying vaccines in skilled nursing facilities, which could delay its ability to hold vaccination appointments for those 65 and older in the community.

About 90% of skilled nursing facilities in the state have received their first dose, and the remainder are expected to be completed this week. The next phase will be distributing vaccines to the state’s 4,500 assisted living facilities.

Willems Van Dijk stressed that patients should use the web as much as possible to get information about setting up a vaccination appointment with their health care provider, local pharmacy or health department.

“If every one of those 700,000 people calls their doctor’s offices today, we’ll crash phone systems all across the state,” Willems Van Dijk said Tuesday.

Willems Van Dijk acknowledged the decision to open eligibility to hundreds of thousands of people next week could introduce some “messiness” as people scramble to get an appointment, but said it’s better than the alternative of waiting.

“I think we’ve heard explicitly from our public and our scientists and our federal government and from ourselves that we want these shots in arms, and we want to keep moving it as quickly as we can,” she said. “This is life-saving vaccine, and so we’re willing to experience a little bit of messiness in the beginning and as we get more people through this system and vaccinated, we’ll hit a cadence and we will get everybody vaccinated who wants a vaccine.”

DHS will post a map on its website with community-based vaccinating locations when vaccine supply increases and eligibility is expanded, Willems Van Dijk said.

Initially, the state is not limiting vaccinations to Wisconsin residents who are 65 and older. If there’s a significant influx of out-of-state residents seeking the vaccine here, state officials may rethink that policy, Willems Van Dijk said.

As of Tuesday, 248,185 vaccines have been distributed in Wisconsin. Another 473,000 have been ordered and 100,000 more were in transit.

In order for the state to vaccinate 80% of the population by the end of June, the state would need triple its current vaccine allocation from the federal government, Willems Van Dijk said.

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.

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