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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 January. Local hospitals and health departments are gearing up to begin vaccinating a 700,000-strong group of Wisconsin residents, people 65 and older.

EAU CLAIRE — As Wisconsin announced Tuesday it will open up COVID-19 vaccines to people 65 and older starting next week, local hospitals and health departments prepared to field the next, huge group of people eligible to get the vaccine.

“This is great news for our community!” said Chippewa County Health Director Angela Weideman on Tuesday, asking the public for patience as health departments set up vaccine clinics.

There are about 700,000 Wisconsin residents 65 and older who will be eligible to get the vaccine starting on Monday, said Julie Willems Van Dijk, the state Department of Health Services’ deputy secretary.

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.

Chippewa Valley hospitals and health departments on Tuesday announced their preferred methods to set up vaccine appointments.

“As much as possible, use the web,” Van Dijk said. “If every one of those 700,000 people calls their doctor’s office today, they will crash phone systems across the state. We know that’s happened in other states.”

The state expects to offer vaccines to the state’s 65-plus-year-old group “before summer,” Van Dijk said Tuesday. It will take weeks or months, Van Dijk said, noting that the state is only getting 70,000 first-dose vaccines per week from the federal government.

People 65 and older are next in line to get the vaccine because most of Wisconsin’s severe illness and death from COVID-19 is happening in that group, Van Dijk said.

Wisconsin began vaccinating Phase 1A on Dec. 14.

That group, about 550,000 people, includes health care workers and assisted living and nursing home staff and residents.

Wisconsin is about halfway through vaccinating that group, Van Dijk said Tuesday.

Where, and when, to get a vaccine in the Chippewa Valley?

Mayo Clinic Health System

Mayo Clinic will contact patients when they’re eligible to schedule an appointment to get vaccinated, according to a statement Tuesday.

Mayo patients with a Patient Online Services account will get a notification when they’re able to schedule an appointment, the clinic said. Patients without an account will get a letter inviting them to schedule their appointment. (The clinic encouraged patients to create a Patient Online Services account at mayoclinichealthsystem.org to be notified quickly.)

Mayo Clinic will base the number of vaccination appointments it’s offering on how many doses it has available.

Marshfield Clinic Health System

Marshfield Clinic Health System is also now scheduling COVID-19 vaccinations for people 65 and older, it announced Tuesday.

Patients and non-patients at Marshfield Medical Center-Eau Claire can schedule a vaccine appointment there, said Miriam Gehler, Marshfield Clinic Health System administrative director for the Chippewa Valley.

The clinic’s first, mandatory step to getting a COVID-19 vaccine is filling out a short survey, Gehler said. The survey can be found at the health system’s website, marshfieldclinic.org/CovidVaccine and by selecting “COVID-19 vaccine sign-up and information.”

The survey will ask for occupation, age, contact information, a preferred vaccination location and if the taker has received COVID-19 treatments like monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma in the past 90 days.

If people taking the survey qualify for a vaccine, Marshfield Clinic Health System will contact them to schedule an appointment, Gehler said.

Once the person gets their first dose, Marshfield Clinic will automatically schedule them a second appointment for their second dose.

People over 65 who want a vaccine and can’t access the website should call 877-998-0880.

“Right now, there are going to be many, many folks calling in,” Gehler said, asking the public to keep “patience and grace” in mind.

“I would encourage anybody in that 65-year-old-plus category to get online as they are able, get their name in there and get ready for an appointment,” Gehler said. “Until they get that vaccine, continue to do what they’re doing. Stay safe and use precautionary measures.”

Gehler added that there will be no out-of-pocket costs for anyone in Wisconsin to get the COVID-19 vaccine at Marshfield Clinic Health System, including people who don’t have health insurance.

Marshfield Clinic said it anticipates that vaccinating people will take several months: “We request patience as we anticipate a high number of people reaching out to schedule a vaccination.”

HSHS hospitals and Prevea Health

HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s hospitals in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls, respectively, also said people 65 and older can begin signing up for a vaccine appointment. In Facebook posts, the hospitals asked people in Phase 1A and 1B to visit www.prevea.com/vaccine to sign up for a shot.

If people can’t sign up online, they should call 1-833-344-4373, according to Prevea Health’s website.

Prevea Health asked people not to call its hospital partners to schedule a shot, but to use online portal MyPrevea to schedule a vaccine instead.

The hospitals won’t accept walk-in appointments, according to Prevea’s website.

“This will take some time to vaccinate this group, so be patient,” said Audrey Boerner, public information officer for the Eau Claire City-County Health Department’s pandemic response.

“We do not have all the vaccine that we need in the Chippewa Valley. More is coming in each week and gets into arms soon after.”

Local health departments setting up clinics

Local public health departments are also planning future vaccine clinics, hoping to get the vaccine to seniors who might not typically go to a clinic or doctor’s office.

The Chippewa County Department of Public Health plans to host its first vaccine clinic for people 65 and older next week, the department announced Tuesday. There is no waitlist, clinic location or sign-up method designated yet, but the department plans to release more information soon, it said.

The Chippewa County health department asked people to sign up to get vaccination updates at www.surveymonkey.com/r/ChipCOVIDVaccine.

The Eau Claire City-County Health Department is also planning to run clinics for people included in Phase 1B, including people 65 and older, Boerner said.

“The timing of this will of course depend on the vaccine supply that we receive,” Boerner said in an email to the Leader-Telegram. “More information about these clinics will be available in the coming days.”

State and local health officials on Tuesday encouraged people to try their doctor’s office or a community clinic instead of a pharmacy, if they’re able.

“We know that these (pharmacies) are currently focused on skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities, and many of those residents also fall into the over 65 age group,” Boerner said, referring to the federal government’s partnership with Walgreens and CVS pharmacies to vaccine facility residents nationwide.

The state plans to set up a map of community vaccination clinics for people in Phase 1A and 1B to get vaccinated, Van Dijk said.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is getting a little bit brighter,” Gehler said.

State set to finalize Phase 1B

Although the state has already announced two groups in Phase 1B — people 65 and older, and fire and police workers — there will be several other, smaller groups of people who can get vaccinated next.

But it’s still up in the air who those groups will be. The State Disaster Advisory Committee released its recommendations last week, which included people 70 and older, police officers, firefighters, teachers and people living in shelters or congregate living facilities.

The SDMAC recommendations will be voted on later this week, Van Dijk said.

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.