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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 — After the state announced Tuesday that people 65 and older can now get the COVID-19 vaccine, organizations in Eau Claire and across Wisconsin saw a deluge of phone calls and emails.

Prevea Health opened up appointments yesterday. In the first 30 minutes, it had 7,000 people try to book an appointment to get a vaccine, said Dr. Ashok Rai, Prevea president and CEO.

“Slots filled up pretty quickly, especially for this population,” Rai said. “You look at all the souls we’ve lost … it’s really hit the 65-and-older population faster than everyone.”

There are about 17,000 people in Eau Claire County alone in the 65-plus age group, said Lieske Giese, director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department.

“We’ve gotten many, many, many calls from individuals 65 and older, and many calls to our COVID hotline,” Giese said Thursday at a press briefing.

Some people have called the Health Department upset that they haven’t been able to schedule a vaccine appointment right away, Giese said. She asked for patience, noting that Health Department staff don’t have control over how many vaccine appointments are available.

The Health Department said there won’t be enough vaccine to meet the demand in the Chippewa Valley for some time.

State officials echoed that this week, saying that it will likely take months to vaccinate everyone in the 65-plus age group.

Right now, Wisconsin is getting about 70,000 doses per week from the federal government, Giese said.

That’s not likely to change until February or March.

The state notified the Eau Claire City-County Health Department this week that it shouldn’t anticipate additional vaccine doses to be available in Wisconsin, Giese said.

“As we open up additional groups to vaccination ... we need to understand we still only get about 70,000 doses in the state each week,” Giese said. “The simple math of that mismatch is probably readily apparent to everybody.”

Rai said Prevea Health will look to create more vaccine appointments once it knows if the state will get a larger allocation of vaccine doses. But that isn’t now.

“Right now we have to lock it down, because we don’t know what the allocation will be,” Rai said.

The Health Department is not currently holding any COVID-19 vaccine clinics open to people 65 and older, but plans to do so, Giese said.

She encouraged people to check the department’s vaccine webpage, bit.ly/covidvaccine-ec, for upcoming clinics.

Watch out for vaccine phone scams, said Dr. Melanie Swift of Mayo Clinic Health System. One scam involves a caller offering someone a higher place in the informal vaccine waiting line in exchange for money.

“No one can do that. Don’t fall for it,” Swift said Thursday, urging the public to report possible scams to their health department.

There are about 700,000 Wisconsin residents 65 and older in total who are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Health care workers, assisted living and nursing home staff and residents and EMS, fire and police workers are all eligible now.

There is no statewide wait list or sign-up for the vaccine.

Instead, officials urged people 65 and older to check with the place where they normally get a flu shot: their doctor’s office or clinic; their local or tribal health department; or their pharmacy.

Case trajectory sinking in Eau Claire County

Just over 10,200 Eau Claire County residents have contracted COVID-19 since March, or about one in 10 people. Almost 350 of those cases are currently active, according to county data.

The county reported three new deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing its total of 95 deaths since the pandemic began.

The county’s daily new COVID-19 cases continue to decrease. The county averaged 36 new cases a day last week, compared to an average 50 cases a day last week.

“Our goal is to be well below that, around 10 cases a day, but we’re in a much better spot than we were in November,” Giese said.

Eleven county residents were hospitalized with the virus this week, compared to 14 the week before.

Because the county’s COVID-19 data is far better than it was in October and November, the Health Department plans to update its list of community expectations within a few days, Giese said.

That list currently holds that people should avoid gatherings of any size outside their household or immediate family and stay six feet apart from others, and that businesses should operate at 50% occupancy, among other things.

“You can expect to see an updated document,” Giese said. “Gatherings of slightly larger sizes are not unreasonable at this point, but we’re maintaining that keeping your group small is the best thing we can do before we get a fully vaccinated population.”

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.