Vaccine Rates Below National Average In Milwaukee
The city of Milwaukee’s COVID-19 infection numbers continue to show improvement. As of Tuesday, the average positivity rate is just over 2%, which is lower than at any other point during the pandemic. The improvements come even after city officials lifted the mask ordinance and all capacity restrictions because of new CDC guidance for vaccinated people.
While health officials are optimistic, they say there’s more work to do to get everyone vaccinated. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said Tuesday he feels good about the decision to lift the city’s health order that created capacity limits and required masks.
“When we made that decision, I think it was the right time to start moving life back to normal,” Barrett said. “And I feel that way because we are seeing decreases in disease burden. And we are also seeing increases in our vaccination numbers. So that we want our vaccination numbers to, to continue to improve. And we know we have a ways to go there.”
Mara Lord of the Medical College of Wisconsin and the city’s vaccine outreach and mobilization effort also said the city’s vaccination rates need to keep up.
“What we’re seeing locally is that we're trending favorably too, [but] we are lagging national data by about 10% points overall,” said Lord.
Just more than 50% of adults in the city have received at least their first dose of the vaccine, and about 44% are fully vaccinated. According the CDC's COVID Data Tracker, 63.8% of adults nationally have received at least their first dose and 53.1% are fully vaccinated.
Lord said the numbers are lower among communities of color and the gap between the national and local rates is especially noticeable in Black and Hispanic communities.
“Hispanic adults and Black adults — 57% already received one dose nationally, 56% of Black adults received one dose, what our rates in the Milwaukee area right now are still Hispanic adults around 35 to 36%, Black adults around 25 to 26%. So those [numbers] are of concern," she said.
Lord said the city is still using the Authentic Voices campaign that it launched in April. The campaign features Black and Hispanic Milwaukeeans and those from other vulnerable populations explaining why they’ve gotten their vaccine. But she said the city is also shifting to social and digital media to reach younger populations.
State health officials are noticing some recurring myths about the vaccine among people who are reluctant to get it. Julie Willems Van Dijk is deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
“These are all myths, let me make really clear before I even say them,” Van Dijk said. “Concern about the vaccine altering your DNA or causing infertility, concerns that you might be able to get COVID from the vaccine, and concerns that if you've had COVID, you don't need the vaccine because you believe you're already immune.”
Van Dijk said the state health department is working to make sure people get accurate information to dispel those myths. In addition to sharing that information with residents, Lord said incentives are a way to convince people to get the vaccine.
Lord explained some Kaiser Family Foundation data. “About 15% of individuals are saying, ... 'If I receive $100 to get the vaccine, I'm in, I'll do it.' Whereas about 10% are saying $20 to get the vaccine, and they would do it. But there's other incentives — 13% [say they would get a vaccine if there was a] free ride to get the vaccine, 11% are saying free tickets to a sporting event or concert.”
Lord said Milwaukee has a lot of giveaways of free rides to get the vaccine, and that events offering Brewers or Summerfest tickets can be excellent incentives.