State health officials said that as of midday Monday, more than 10,000 health care workers in Wisconsin had received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The Department of Health Services (DHS) expects that number to quickly rise. But vaccine supply questions are hampering estimates on when most U.S. residents will be immunized.
Meanwhile, a state site in West Allis is about to start giving out a drug to treat some people with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19.
The 10,000 vaccinations are less than three percent of the health care workers in the state — the group first in line to receive the injection. But DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said that's not a bad start, given that the vaccine made by Pfizer has only been in Wisconsin for about a week.
“The ink was barely dry on the paper of what the appropriate use of the vaccine was, around solidifying all of the storage requirements. And so, that's not how we usually bring a new medication, or a new vaccine into the world — that we start administering it, within 48 hours of its approval,” explained Willems Van Dijk.
She said urgency is being balanced with safety, but that urgency may be delayed if the supply of the Pfizer vaccine, or a second vaccine made by Moderna doesn't keep up with rapidly rising demand.
Gov. Tony Evers has already complained to federal officials about this week's supply to Wisconsin of the Pfizer drug being cut by nearly a third, down to 35,000 doses. DHS expects to receive 100,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine this week, but a smaller amount next week.
People living in long-term care facilities in Wisconsin are supposed to start receiving the vaccine about a week from Monday.
Willems Van Dijk said after that essential workers will get the drug, which could be up to another 800,000 Wisconsin residents.
"I think we're going to have enough vaccines to get through phase one. I think the bigger issue is when we open this up to larger populations. That's where we're going to run into issues, if we're not getting significantly higher number of doses from the federal government. It'll take us even longer,” she said.
Plus, people age 75 and older will also be eligible for vaccination around that time.
Medical College of Wisconsin President and CEO John Raymond said at an online town hall meeting Monday night that more vaccines may be approved soon.
"The sooner the better and we do know the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is likely to apply for Emergency Use Authorization sometime in January. And Johnson & Johnson shortly thereafter. This is important because those two vaccines are using older technology that's been around 30-40 years, and there's a very substantial manufacturing capacity,” said Raymond.
Just who is prioritized under the frontline essential worker category may not be known for a while in Wisconsin. DHS said the state will take into account final federal guidelines and the views of the state's Disaster Medical Advisory Committee (SDMAC).
Dr. Raymond explained there many occupations to prioritize.
"First responders like firefighters, police officers, food and agricultural workers, grocery stores and in some cases, some manufacturing plants like food processing plants, where people are packed close together, correctional facility staff, postal workers, public transit workers,” he said.
Nationally, that's 49 million people.
Meanwhile, amid talk of the vaccine, the state said new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and deaths remain very high, though down from several weeks ago.
Starting Tuesday at the state's Alternate Care Facility in West Allis, an outpatient infusion clinic will offer a treatment drug called Bamlanivmab. It is meant for people with a mild or moderate case of the coronavirus, who are early in their illness and who have been referred there by a health care system.
Willems Van Dijk acknowledged other hospitals are also providing the medication.
"This drug has been administered in emergency rooms, in modification of infusion clinics, in exam rooms, in clinics," she said. "And is being put to good use."
Willems Van Dijk said the West Allis site can serve up to 84 patients per week.