Chippewa County’s goal of having 1,000 vaccinations against COVID-19 per week is ambitious, but we’re glad to see that. Ambition is needed now, as the state’s efforts to vaccinate residents have clearly fallen behind those of neighboring states.
The most recent figures suggest Wisconsin has vaccinated something like 2.4% of the population. We’re not sold on percentages as the right measure. Lower populations mean it’s easier to rack up those figures, and indeed the highest rates nationally are in low-population states.
What gives a better picture is the number of doses distributed per 100,000 residents. That’s a rate that equalizes across populations. In Wisconsin, that figure is about 7,400. In Minnesota it’s more than 9,000 doses per 100,000 residents. Iowa tops 8,000.
Doses administered lags for Wisconsin as well. Wisconsin Department of Health Services data showed slightly more than 600,000 doses allocated to Wisconsin as of Thursday. About 373,000 had been shipped. Only 176,000 or so had gone into people’s arms.
Officials can fairly point to the challenges of distribution and vaccinating large numbers of people when simply gathering them in one location is a terrible idea. There are genuine hurdles to overcome. There are real obstacles that must be surmounted.
The frustrating thing is that there was also plenty of time to see this coming. It’s not as if state officials were unaware that efforts were underway to develop vaccines. As far back as last August we urged state and local officials to make sure plans for vaccine distribution and administration were in place. This was a foreseeable challenge.
It is clear today Wisconsin was not as well prepared as it should have been. It’s clear that the rollout of vaccination efforts was not as smooth as might have been hoped. Some bumps in the road were probably inevitable, but the lackluster results thus far suggest more should have been done.
We have to think the lack of real communication and cooperation between the governor and the Legislature played some role. Would better efforts there have resulted in smooth sailing? Probably not. But it also couldn’t have hurt. And, if nothing else, there’s a benefit to seeing our elected leaders act like adults for once. But our primary purpose here isn’t to lay blame.
There’s still time to fix things. Delays are not the same as doom. Wisconsin’s efforts to get vaccines into people’s arms can improve, and officials need to be looking at how to do so. The potential approval of a single-dose vaccine in the coming weeks could simplify things immensely, but tweaks to improve the supply chain and clarity for residents on when they may be vaccinated are still necessary.
The difference between the number of doses shipped in Wisconsin and the number of shots that have been given should lead to a pause on calls for the release of more vaccines to the state. While we understand the instinct to amass as many of what is currently a rare commodity as possible, it makes little sense to do so until the distribution bottleneck is addressed. Having a stockpile only matters if you can make use of it, and right now Wisconsin can’t.
Wisconsin’s rollout isn’t the most chaotic in the nation. It’s not the best, either. It can, indisputably, be improved.
The urgency for fixing these issues grew this week, when the first variant of the COVID virus linked in Britain to higher rates of transmission was found in Wisconsin. The discovery came not in Milwaukee, Green Bay or Madison, but right here in Eau Claire County. There’s every reason to suspect that, much like the virus itself last spring, the discovery trails its introduction to the state on a wider scale.
We hope officials spend some time making improvements in the coming days. The new variant strain of the virus seems to increase how readily it spreads, but does not appear to make it worse for those unfortunate enough to get it. There’s no guarantee that will be true of the next mutation, and the longer the virus goes unchecked the more likely new mutations are.
We’re in a race against the clock here, and no one knows if or when it might run out. Chippewa County’s goal of 1,000 vaccinations per week is possible. But it does little good if the capacity and planning are not met with enough supply.
Wisconsin needs to do better.