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FEMA Aid Helps Wisconsin Center Become Regional Vaccination Site

The entrance to the city of Milwaukee COVID-19 vaccination site at the Wisconsin Center.
Chuck Quirmbach
The entrance to the city of Milwaukee COVID-19 vaccination site at the Wisconsin Center.

The federal government is now helping administer COVID-19 vaccine at the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, and its partners will be helping to dole out at least 7,000 first doses of the vaccine per week in addition to second doses.

Dr. Nick Tomaro, public health emergency preparedness coordinator for the city of Milwaukee, says before this federal help, the Wisconsin Center was only vaccinating city residents.

"Now, with the addition of federal personnel, we do open up the site to the region, essentially. So that's the distinction today that now this is a mass vaccination site that will be open to more than just the city of Milwaukee," he says.

Tomaro says that’s residents in eligible phases — currently 1A and 1B — throughout southeastern Wisconsin.

There will be a total of 57 clinical staff and 31 non-clinical staff at the Wisconsin Center, he explains. The staff will be coordinated by FEMA and come from various organizations.

“We have what's called a DMAT team. So that's a Disaster Medical Assistance Team from California, so a dedicated team that's been in multiple places throughout the country. And really exciting to have them here. Just great experience. We have a team that's local from the Veterans Affairs from the VA. We have a team from the USDA that will help us with dose preparations for the vaccine," Tomaro says.

There are also EMTs from the US Forest Service. And Team Rubicon volunteers, in large part veterans that donate their time and volunteer with a lot of disaster response.

Tomaro says the influx of new staff helps the city funnel personnel and resources to more vulnerable areas and target the zip codes of 53204, 53205 and 53206.

“And so we started our mobile vaccine clinics about a week and a half ago now. So we've been at various churches, we were at Milwaukee Public school sites, and that we've built out a schedule, and we're continuing to build that on a daily basis," he says.

Tomaro says the city will transfer some Wisconsin Center staff to mobile vaccination teams and is working on bringing vaccine to community health centers like the Northwest Health Center, the Southside Health Center and even sites like the Mill Road Library.

He says this scaling up of personnel is coming at a good time, just as the federal government signals the flow of vaccine is improving.

Tomaro says, ultimately, between first and second doses at the Wisconsin Center, officials estimate they’ll be scaling up to 2,000 doses a day. And then with these other efforts, mobile and some stationary sites in other parts of the city, they intend to do several thousand more doses throughout each week as well.

Maayan is a WUWM news reporter.
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