Efforts to immunize people 65 and older against COVID-19 are stepping up this week in Wisconsin. Tuesday, the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee will hold a second day of vaccinating hundreds of seniors who have appointments.
But a city health official says they've had to take steps to prevent other people from unfairly coming in, and he says, questions about vaccine supply continue to inject uncertainty into the process.
The State Department of Health Services says about 20% of Wisconsin residents age 65 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Many of those people live in care facilities like nursing homes, where the vaccine has been administered for about a month. Wisconsin seniors living in other quarters have only been allowed to get the medicine since January 25.
Even then, it was mainly seniors who are customers of large health care providers who were getting an injection. But the Wisconsin Center site is open to more people 65 and older.
As Clarence Joshua left the building Monday after receiving his shot, he exclaimed that receiving the first dose is part of a huge goal: "Survive. Live! Come out of this misery that we're in!"
Jan Manes said he got the vaccine as a step toward a more normal work life.
"I work for Carmen High School, and at this point, they're virtual, waiting to get back into classes. I think the shot not only protects me, but also protects the kids, and all the other people around. I think it's a duty almost to get the shot,” said Manes.
Vaccine recipient Cythnia Wisneski said the relatively quick development of the drug is a marvel. "I really think it's been an achievement for everyone to be vaccinated across the whole United States,” she said.
Michael Chin said he hasn't minded waiting behind other groups of people who were immunized first. "There must be priorities in issuing the vaccine. So, I'm OK with that," he said.
Jean Hudlett said going to the city of Milwaukee-run location was actually faster than going to her health care provider. "I wish my health system would have been more helpful because they would have been scheduling me weeks out," she said.
Like the other vaccine recipients, Hudlett promised to come back in three weeks for her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, as she also has a goal: "See my friends and family, which is very important to me." She said it’s been a while since she saw them.
The Milwaukee Health Department said it expects nearly 1,500 seniors will get the COVID-19 vaccine at the Wisconsin Center during the first two days of this week.
Preparedness Coordinator Dr. Nick Tomaro said many signed up through the HealthyMKE.com website city. But he says the Milwaukee Health Department also did specific outreach to certain churches as well as with the Milwaukee Housing Authority.
"To be very upfront with you, we have had some problems with the link for scheduling being shared inappropriately. We've had our link shared on Facebook. We've had our link passed around amongst individuals who are not appropriate for vaccine at this time. So, as everyone's kind of experiencing around the state and around the country, we really are trying to target specific groups and so right now, this is our attempt as a health department to be very appropriate with who's coming in initially here,” said Tomaro.
Besides trying to carefully screen who gets a shot, Tomaro said making sure there's enough vaccine remains a long-term concern.
"It's a really fluid situation around the state for the supply of vaccine. So we're actually working with Pfizer vaccine. We will begin getting the Moderna vaccine starting Wednesday, and we don't know the timing of that shipment. So, to talk about the complexities, you're talking two different vaccines, two different dosing schedules. We are having to be very, very flexible with scheduling at this time,” he said.
Tomaro said the city of Milwaukee has also had to set aside some doses for earlier vaccine recipients who are due to come in this week and get their second shot.
He said staff at the Wisconsin Center have the ability to scale up 10,000 vaccine recipients per week. But that capacity won't be used until the supply dramatically increases.