EAU CLAIRE — Wisconsin must start receiving triple its current weekly allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine from the federal government to be able to vaccinate 70% of Wisconsin residents by the fall in a bid to reach herd immunity, a state Department of Health Services official told reporters Thursday.
The federal government is now shipping Wisconsin about 70,000 doses of the vaccine each week, said DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk.
“In order for us to get to herd immunity as you’re outlining, before three to four years are up … we’re going to have to increase the pace of this,” Van Dijk told reporters at a Thursday news briefing.
Wisconsin had administered about 110,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Thursday.
That includes around 2,700 doses administered in Eau Claire County so far, said Lieske Giese, director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department.
On Wednesday, the Health Department held its first vaccine clinic for unaffiliated health care workers in the county, a group that includes dentists, physical therapists, family doctors, ophthalmologists, chiropractors and personal care workers.
“We only got 100 doses, and we gave out all 100,” Giese said.
Questions around vaccine timeline
Wisconsin is currently vaccinating people in Phase 1A. It’s a group of about 500,000 health care workers and skilled nursing facility workers and residents.
The state will wait to move on to vaccinating people in Phase 1B until “a substantial portion” of Phase 1A is offered the vaccine, Van Dijk said Thursday.
DHS anticipates moving into Phase 1B before the end of January, she said.
The state hasn’t yet officially defined who will be included in Phases 1B and 1C.
Phase 1B, the next group in Wisconsin to be offered vaccinations, may include people 75 and older and non-health care frontline essential workers, according to the DHS website. It’s also anticipated that Phase 1C will include people between 65 and 74, people age 16 to 64 with high-risk medical conditions and essential workers not included in Phase 1B — though the DHS has said those details are not yet formally decided.
If the groups in Phase 1A and Phase 1B are about the same size — 500,000 people or so — Van Dijk predicted that it could take four to six weeks to offer the vaccine to Phase 1B.
The time frame for Wisconsin’s general public to first get the vaccine is still unclear.
“Most people are predicting we’d be there by early summer, and maybe with increased supply we’d be there a little sooner,” Van Dijk said.
Wisconsin officials are hoping that other COVID-19 vaccine candidates will help get the general public protected from the virus more quickly. At least two vaccine candidates, one from Johnson & Johnson and one from AstraZeneca, are both in Phase 3 trials as of January.
When the state determines who will be eligible for vaccines next, Giese said she expects health care providers to reach out to their patients.
“This will likely also include a concerted effort with pharmacies,” Giese said.
Republicans criticize rollout
State health officials on Thursday defended their rollout of the vaccine, after Republican lawmakers this week criticized Gov. Tony Evers’ administration’s efforts.
Republican state Sen. Alberta Darling, who represents parts of southeastern Wisconsin, claimed in a statement this week that Evers didn’t have a transparent plan to distribute the vaccine and added that the governor was “on the verge of yet another disaster.”
As of Tuesday, about 266,000 vaccines had been shipped to Wisconsin, but only about 85,000 had been administered, according to the DHS.
Total administered doses ramped up to 110,000 on Thursday, Van Dijk said.
She added that many thousands of doses hadn’t been administered yet because they were still being shipped to counties. The state will also begin administering more doses each day as it approves new clinics, hospitals and agencies as vaccinators, she said.
The state also must allocate another 90,000 doses to pharmacies over the next few weeks.
Wisconsin receives a weekly allotment of the vaccine from the federal government, but first it asks the over 1,000 registered vaccinators in Wisconsin to list their storage capacity and how many people they plan to vaccinate in the next week.
The Moderna vaccine is being shipped directly to the vaccinator sites. The Pfizer vaccine, which requires more extreme cold storage, is shipped to regional hospital hubs and then distributed, Van Dijk said.
“We are also now seeing administration of second doses, with nearly 5,000 people receiving second dose and thus fully completing their series,” Van Dijk told reporters Thursday.