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A vial of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at an Eau Claire vaccination clinic for front-line health care workers in November.

EAU CLAIRE — In the last four weeks, about half of Eau Claire County residents 65 and older — or 8,753 people — have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

That’s better than the statewide average. Forty-three percent of Wisconsin residents 65 and older have gotten at least one dose, according to state health department data.

“That’s our population at highest risk for hospitalization and death, and it’s good we’re prioritizing that group,” said Lieske Giese, director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department.

Chippewa County isn’t far behind Eau Claire: 49% of its seniors have gotten at least one dose. In Dunn County, 36% of its seniors have received at least one dose.

The vaccine effort isn’t a county-by-county race, Giese said Thursday at a news briefing.

“We are equally worried that 65-and-older individuals in all communities across the state get vaccinated,” she said. “ … While we’re doing well, the state needs to allocate vaccine so it’s equitably distributed to get that population vaccinated. It doesn’t do any good if a neighboring county has 10% of that age group vaccinated, and we have 50%.

“We want to get as close to 100% vaccination in that age group as we can get,” she added.

In total doses given, Eau Claire County has also pulled ahead of the state.

About 15% of Eau Claire County residents have gotten at least one dose, compared to 13% of Wisconsin residents, according to state data.

Shortage of doses

Although 23,600 doses of the vaccine have already been administered in Eau Claire County, Giese said health organizations still aren’t getting anywhere near the number of doses they’ve asked for.

Two weeks ago, the Eau Claire City-County Health Department was only getting around 20% of the vaccine doses it requested from the state.

It’s the same story across Wisconsin, state officials say. Vaccinators have the resources to vaccine thousands more each day — but not the supply, said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the state’s Department of Health Services.

But vaccine shipments to the state are slowly growing bigger. The federal government has told Wisconsin to expect 115,000 first doses weekly for the next three weeks, Van Dijk said Thursday in a call with reporters. It’s big bump up from January, when Wisconsin was getting about 70,000 doses each week.

State and local officials have been reluctant to describe a firm timeframe for Wisconsin being able to offer a vaccine to any resident who wants one.

If Eau Claire County can get 5,200 first doses every week for roughly the next four months, all 80,000 residents who are over 16 could get vaccinated by mid-June, Giese said.

(In that scenario, the county would have to slightly bump up distribution. In Eau Claire County’s best week so far — the last week of January — it gave out 4,800 doses.)

But “it’s really dependent on the volume of vaccine available. A one-dose vaccine (would make) it even easier to get done,” Giese added, referring to a Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine that’s heading for a Feb. 26 formal review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Currently, just two COVID-19 vaccines are approved for use in the U.S.: the Pfizer vaccine, which is authorized for people 16 and older, and the Moderna shot, which is authorized for people 18 and older.

About 7% of Eau Claire County residents have completed their two-dose series of the vaccine.

More women than men in the county are getting the vaccine: 19% of women in Eau Claire County have gotten at least one dose, compared to 11% of men.

Shrinking COVID-19 trajectory

A downturn in new COVID-19 cases continued this week for Eau Claire County.

The county averaged 11 new cases per day this week. The week before, it averaged 20 new cases per day, according to county data.

And despite six deaths from COVID-19 in February so far, the county recorded no new deaths from the virus this week.

“Our trajectory is down,” Giese said Thursday. “That’s really good news.”

But local health officials are asking people to keep getting tested for COVID-19. Testing is the lowest it’s been since mid-October, Giese said — an average of 351 tests per day throughout the county.

Giese also encouraged people eligible to get the vaccine to make an appointment at their health care provider, at the Health Department or at an Eau Claire Walgreens location.

“Make sure if you make an appointment, you keep it,” Giese asked Thursday, repeating a similar request made by the Health Department last week. “We want to make sure if you can’t keep your appointment, we open it up to someone else. It’s really important that we don’t have no-shows across our community.”

For detailed information about getting an appointment in Eau Claire County, people can visit the Health Department’s website at tinyurl.com/r05mtloc or at covid19eauclaire.org.

Sarah Seifert is the L-T's education and health reporter. She has worked as a journalist in the Chippewa Valley since 2017 and joined the L-T in 2019. Get in touch at sarah.seifert@ecpc.com or on Twitter @sarahaseifert.