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Teacher Vaccinations Could Begin March 1, But Greenfield Health Official Worries About Supply

Chuck Quirmbach
A reminder sign outside the Wisconsin Center vaccination site in downtown Milwaukee.

A local health official is questioning whether the state should delay plans to start giving the COVID-19 vaccine to teachers, childcare workers, and other groups on about March 1.   

Darren Rausch directs the city of Greenfield Health Department. He said many local health directors continue to worry about insufficient supplies of the vaccine, and have communicated that to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Rausch said seniors are the main group targeted to get the vaccine this month, yet barely a third have been able to do so in Milwaukee County.

"Only approximately 36% of our seniors in Milwaukee County, age 65 or older, have received one dose of COVID vaccine. This number is far too small. And, it's a bit irresponsible to think about expanding eligible groups, until we can drive this number [up],” said Rausch.

Rausch said if the state is unable to meet new demand for the vaccine, a lot of people would be disappointed.

"If we expand eligibility, without the availability of vaccine, we would anticipate and expect a resultant frustration, mistrust and confusio, from those residents who are eligible and looking for a vaccine but unable to access it,” he said.

Credit Screenshot
Greenfield Health Department Director Darren Rausch speaks to news reporters on February 18.

But the state has been saying that it's OK to go ahead with the next group of vaccine recipients when a current group reaches 50% immunization. Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said she expects that to happen with seniors by March 1.

"The pace that we are going at indicates we are likely to be there. I want to say it's a big shout-out to our vaccinators,” she said.

State and local health officials do agree that the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to go down, as do hospitalizations and additional deaths. But there remains a worry about a variant of the coronavirus that has been found in many locations, including Milwaukee County. Dr. Ben Weston, of the county's Office of Emergency Management and the Medical College of Wisconsin, said there are a few warning signs that another COVID-19 surge may be coming.

"If the new variant becomes dominant, which we've seen in every country that it's gone to — it pretty much does in one to two months — then we would expect an increase and potentially, as other countries have seen, a dramatic increase in our case burden,” he said.

But Weston said any local surge can be prevented by more vaccinations, and continued social distancing and wearing of masks.  

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