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More COVID-19 Vaccine May Be Coming To Underserved Groups In The Milwaukee Area

Chuck Quirmbach
The Lisbon Avenue Health Center is one of the Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) in the Milwaukee area that will be receiving full shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The state of Wisconsin says it's trying to ship more of the COVID-19 vaccine to underserved communities, including parts of the Milwaukee area. Meanwhile, local officials say they're trying to reach out to a broader group of potential vaccine recipients. 

Demand for the vaccine continues to far outpace supply. Last week as more people age 65 and older were eligible to receive the drug, vaccination outlets in the state requested 300,000 first doses. The state says it could only supply about 78,000, or 27%, of that amount. Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said distribution of the vaccine around Wisconsin remains controversial.

"I can tell you on Friday, when we sent out the allocations to our vaccinators, probably almost no one was happy. I mean, you can imagine. If you only have 27% of what you need to give people, people are going to be deeply disappointed,” she said.

At least one smaller Wisconsin county said its vaccine supply is being reduced and more is being shipped to urban counties. Willems Van Dijk said changes have been made in the state's formula to make sure there's equitable distribution across Wisconsin.

She said one change was to limit the supply to sites that requested fewer than 50 doses.

"Because of trying to center it in places that could get vaccine out and also, because it's very difficult to make that many deliveries for very small quantities of vaccine. We're going to have to alter back and forth between places in the weeks to come as we continue to have relatively small supply,” she said.

Credit Screenshot
Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk speaks to the news media Tuesday.

Willems Van Dijk said another change should help some clinics in Milwaukee and other communities.

"We know our Federally Qualified Health Centers are providers of care to many of our African American and Hispanic communities. And so, one of the things we did this week is to make sure that every one of those clinics received their full allotment of vaccine to be sure that we were getting vaccine to providers who specifically serve these populations,” she said.

Willems Van Dijk said the state is also working with providers in its Medicaid program, which serves people who are typically low-income.

"The transportation resources associated with Medicaid will now be, if you're getting a COVID vaccine, it's considered an urgent situation, so you can now get transportation that day without having to plan multiple days ahead of time,” she said.

The Deputy Secretary of the State Health Department said she's recently spoken with Marlaina Jackson, acting Commissioner of the Milwaukee Health Department, about ways the city is talking to diverse groups about the vaccine. 

Credit Screenshot
Marlaina Jackson, acting Commissioner of the Milwaukee Health Department, during a media briefing Tuesday.

Jackson gave details during a separate media call Tuesday.

"Our tactics are to go into the community, in whatever capacity that means. Whether it means going into particular work sites, whether it means going into churches or other areas — barbershops or whatever it might be — to make sure we are going to the people we are purposely trying to impact by equity to reach our equity goals,” she said.

Jackson said the Milwaukee Health Department will soon roll out its plans for a mobile vaccination unit. 

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said the city tried to boost racial diversity at its vaccination site at the Wisconsin Center this week by reaching out to a public housing neighborhood and providing a bus to and from downtown.

Wednesday afternoon, Milwaukee County is expected to update its race and ethnicity data on who's getting the vaccine locally. The state of Wisconsin says it's waiting for more people to be vaccinated, so it has a bigger sample size. The state says it will release its race and ethnicity data in the coming weeks.

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