Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire received its first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday. The clinic is preparing to administer the first doses of the vaccine to front-line workers, following in the footsteps of other Wisconsin organizations earlier this week.

EAU CLAIRE — The first-ever doses of the COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Eau Claire Tuesday at Mayo Clinic Health System, marking the beginning of a massive vaccination effort in the Chippewa Valley and the nation that’s expected to last long into 2021.

Front-line workers will be the first to receive the vaccine at Mayo Clinic in Eau Claire, according to the clinic.

Mayo Clinic got its first doses of the vaccine from the state Department of Health Services.

Wisconsin’s first 10,000 doses first arrived Monday, and health care workers got their first doses quickly after. Another 35,000 doses are expected in Wisconsin by the end of next week, the Associated Press reported Monday.

Wisconsin is distributing the vaccine through a hub-and-spoke model, DHS officials have said. Larger health care organizations will serve as distribution centers for their regions of the state. The Wisconsin DHS hasn’t named those hubs, though UW Health and Marshfield Clinic Health System said last week that they would serve as hubs for regions in southern and central Wisconsin, respectively.

Marshfield Medical Center-Eau Claire expects to receive shipments of the vaccine later this week, said regional communications manager Matt Schneider in a statement Monday.

“We likely will begin giving vaccinations to our front line staff starting within the next week,” Schneider said in the statement.

“We don’t anticipate receiving a large number of vaccines, so not all of our eligible front line employees will receive a vaccination immediately.”

Physicians and health care workers who directly work with COVID-19 patients will also be the first to be vaccinated by Mayo Clinic in Rochester, said Dr. Andrew Badley, an infectious disease physician researcher and chair of Mayo Clinic’s COVID-19 Task Force.

It will take “several months” before the vaccine is available to the general public, Badley said: “The last estimate I’ve heard is March or April. That can vary … if there are issues with the supply chain … that timeline may be moved up or slowed done.”

The vaccine currently arriving in Wisconsin is manufactured by pharmaceutical company Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech. The Pfizer shot will be given in two doses, each dose 21 days apart. It’s approved for people 16 and older, according to the company’s FDA application.

Pfizer and BioNTech say the vaccine is around 95% effective.

Other COVID-19 vaccines are in development, and Moderna’s vaccine, which uses very similar technology to the Pfizer shot, could be approved by the FDA as soon as this week.

Badley said people who are vaccinated will still have to socially distance and wear masks, noting that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines reduce instances of symptomatic COVID-19, which isn’t the same thing as reducing cases of the disease itself: “Why people should take (the vaccine) is if people get infected with SARS-CoV-2, they won’t get sick and won’t have to go into the hospital, won’t have bad outcomes … it also means that even if you have a vaccine, it doesn’t mean that you can’t become infected and therefore that you can’t transmit the virus.”

Eau Claire County has seen a fall in daily COVID-19 cases since its peak in November, adding 23 new cases on Tuesday. Hospitalizations also continue to come down this week. As of Tuesday, 29 coronavirus patients were hospitalized at Mayo Clinic locations in northwest Wisconsin, including six in the ICU, Badley said — down from 85 hospitalized and 10 in the ICU on Dec. 2.

But weekly cases in the county are still higher than they were all spring and summer, and far fewer tests are being done each day than in October or November, according to county data.

Contact: 715-833-9206, sarah.seifert@ecpc.com, @sarahaseifert on Twitter

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.