COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Begins In Wisconsin, Health Care Workers First

Health officials say about 10,000 doses of the first federally-approved, COVID-19 vaccine have arrived in Wisconsin. That's about one-fifth of the doses expected in the state by later this week. Health care workers are supposed to be the first to get the vaccine, but most won't be vaccinated until later this month.

State officials say the doses of the vaccine made by Pfizer were delivered Monday to two distribution centers or hubs. UW-Health, the health care system part of UW-Madison, says it then started immunizing some of its frontline employees. But the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) says there are about 400,000 health care workers in the state, so some of them won’t receive a shot for weeks.

At a DHS briefing, Division of Public Health Immunization Program Manager Stephanie Schauer described who's supposed to be first in line: "Individuals who provide direct patient service. They're compensated and uncompensated. They engage in health care services that place them into direct contact with patients who are able to transmit COVID-19, and/or those who are in contact with infectious material containing COVID-19."

Schauer cautioned the Pfizer vaccine requires two doses, and the second will be given 21 days after the first.

Medical College of Wisconsin President and CEO Dr. John Raymond said like many vaccines, the COVID ones will have localized side effects. "That include injection site tenderness, redness and swelling, and systemic symptoms such as fever, fatigue, nausea, headache, joint pain, muscle aches. These are to be expected, and should go away within one to two days,” Raymond told the Greater Milwaukee Committee.

Schauer promised health care workers and other people immunized later will be monitored and encouraged to report any unusual side effects.

"We have the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS.) That is where a provider or an individual can report any adverse event, and that is done to the CDC at the federal level. We have a new program called V-safe, which is something individuals will go ahead and receive a text or can respond via the web on a daily basis in the period after vaccination and report any symptoms or issues they are having,” Schauer explained.


Raymond cautioned that the studies leading up to the emergency authorization of the Pfizer vaccine excluded many children and included very few women who are pregnant.

"So right now, children under 16 and pregnant women are probably not going to be on the list of folks who receive the vaccine early on,” he said.

The FDA is expected to approve a second coronavirus vaccine, made by Moderna, later this week. Shipments to the states are expected next week with Wisconsin slated to receive about 100,000 doses of that product. People will need to get two shots of the Moderna vaccine 28 days apart. The state says it hopes to start getting residents of long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, their first shot by the end of the month.

Other groups will come later, and the state may announce a more specific timetable later this week.

But there are already questions about equitable distribution of the vaccine. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said given the higher impact of COVID-19 in some Black and Latino neighborhoods of the city, more vaccine may be needed there, including at what are known as Federally Qualified Health Centers.

"Because they are the ones on the ground that have so much interaction, particularly in the neighborhoods where we have seen a lot of the problem. Also, that we have the school nurses, we have the people that are working in the institutions, whether it's the jail or the House of Correction," Barrett said.

A DHS official responded that all state clinics, including the federally qualified ones serving underserved groups will receive vaccine, and their workers will be properly immunized.

The focus on the vaccine should not take away from ongoing concerns about the pandemic, said Raymond of the Medical College. The state reported 12 more deaths Monday, and another 2,100 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Raymond said there may be several reasons the increase in deaths and cases has been slowing down a little the last couple of weeks. But he said Wisconsin is likely far from achieving what's known as herd immunity.

"We are not close to 70% of the population having been infected. We may be at 30%, if you believe some of the upper boundary estimates. But that is simply not enough to confer herd immunity for our population," Raymond said.

So, he said masks and social distancing will remain the norm for months. That even goes for people who are vaccinated because they could still temporarily host the coronavirus and inadvertently spread it to others who have not been immunized.


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