COVID-19 vaccine arrives in Wisconsin, health care workers to receive it this week

Last updated on December 15th, 2020 at 11:24 pm

Wisconsin received its first allocation of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine today.

The state is set to receive 49,725 doses of the vaccine, which was authorized on Friday for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, throughout the week, Gov. Tony Evers said Monday. The doses are being shipped directly to regional hubs across the state, which are equipped with ultra-low temperature storage capabilities needed for the Pfizer vaccine. Shipments are expected to increase over the coming weeks as more supply becomes available.

The first doses of the vaccine will be given to frontline health care workers, according to the state’s prioritization plan. Wisconsin has more than 400,000 health care workers.

UW Health received its first shipment of the vaccine, which included nearly 4,000 doses, on Monday morning and planned to administer it to some high-risk employees in the afternoon, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

A second COVID-19 vaccine, manufactured by Moderna, is scheduled to be reviewed by an FDA committee on Thursday. If that vaccine receives authorization, Wisconsin is set to receive 101,000 doses from Moderna next week. It will be administered to long-term care workers and residents and other health care workers.

“Since the early days in the pandemic, we have been planning and preparing for the arrival of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine,” Evers said. “I fully trust in the expertise of our scientists, researchers, and public health experts who are guiding our planning, preparation, and distribution. They have put a lot of effort into ensuring that the vaccine infrastructure and clinics are ready for the successful rollout of our Wisconsin COVID-19 Vaccine Program.”

Dr. Stephanie Schauer, immunizations director with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, shared with Greater Milwaukee Committee members on Monday the specifics of the state’s vaccine prioritization plan. The phases of that plan include:

  • Phase 1A: critical care workers (those who provide direct patient service and whose services put them in contact with COVID-19 patients); long-term care staff and residents, with skilled nursing facilities prioritized first.
  • Phase 1B: essential workers
  • Phase 1C: individuals over 65; individuals with underlying health conditions
  • Phase 2 and 3: remainder of phase 1 populations; critical populations; general populations

Administration of the vaccine during phase 1 is expected to be “tightly controlled” and will occur in closed settings, according to the state’s plan. In phase 2, the vaccine will be administered more widely in health care, commercial and public health settings.

“While we are excited and ready to begin vaccinating those that experts have identified as priority populations, we must remember that this is going to be a long process for everyone,” said DHS secretary-designee Andrea Palm. “We are asking Wisconsinites to be patient and continue to help slow the spread of the virus by staying home as much as possible, wearing a mask, physical distancing, getting tested, and washing your hands.”

Dr. John Raymond, president and chief executive officer of the Medical College of Wisconsin, noted the state will need vaccines from multiple companies to meet the state’s needs. He said several companies – including Pfizer and Biontech, Moderna, Oxford and AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson – are expected to have vaccines ready for distribution by or during the first quarter of 2021.

“No single drug company is going to be able to meet the short-term demand for vaccines,” Raymond said. “We’re going to need many hundreds of millions, possibly a billion doses in the United States.”

Wisconsin will achieve “herd immunity” when about 70% of residents are vaccinated, Raymond said.

“Until 70 to 75% of the population is vaccinated, all of us need to minimize interactions outside our home and continue to practice the three W’s: wear a mask, watch your distance and wash your hands,” he said.

State health officials have projected that social distancing and masking measures will need to continue until mid- to late-2021.

Dr. Norman Baylor, president and CEO of Virginia-based Biologics Consulting and former director for the FDA’s Office of Vaccine Research, told GMC members Monday that he expects employers will be able to return to normal operations – including bringing employees back in the office – by the end of 2021. That date could depend on the duration of the vaccines’ efficacy, however, he said.

“We don’t know how long protection will last,” he said. “…Businesses seeking to bring back workers to the workplace, even after the vaccines are widely available, will need to think about: is it essential to bring those individuals back and when? Is it safe to bring your employees back? And is it mutually agreed? This is something that needs to be discussed with the employees.”

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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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