Distribution By Feds Slowing Vaccine Process

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Michelle Phillips

WISCONSIN–Wisconsin Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk told a group of reporters at a virtual press conference Monday that slow shipment of COVID-19 vaccines by the federal government is to blame for the low number of doses administered in the state. She joined Gov. Tony Evers in asking that the feds step up their shipment of vaccines. She said that although Pres. Elect Joe Biden has said his administration will get one million doses shipped per day, at that rate it would still take nearly a year to vaccinate all adults in the United States. As of Monday, 151,502 doses had been administered, 11,586 of which were second doses.

“This is a great accomplishment, but it’s not enough,” Willems Van Dijk said.

In a letter made public by the governor’s office, Evers said it will likely be June before vaccinations are given to the general public. Willems Van Dijk also echo that sentiment but added the state will start vaccinating law enforcement and fire fighters, part of Phase 1b, next week. The state is currently vaccinating those in Phase 1a, which includes health care professionals and skilled nursing facilities.

The State Disaster Advisory Committee (SDMAC) was expected to make a determination on who will be in Phase 1a this week, but Willems Van Dijk said the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) expected law enforcement and police to be included in Phase 1b and decided to begin without the recommendation of SDMAC. She reminded that as the state moves into Phase 1b, those in 1a that may have declined in getting the vaccine could still request it. Phase 1b has nearly double the population of Phase 1a.

She also addressed questions about why those outside of Phase 1a had gotten vaccinated before Phase 1a is complete? She said if someone doesn’t show up for their vaccination, health care workers will call in someone else who wants the vaccine, which has led to some individuals outside Phase 1a getting shots. The Pfizer vaccine has just a five day shelf life once thawed. 

“Our goal is to never stop vaccinating,” she added.

Another challenge the state has faced is storing the vaccine. She said coordinating distribution can be difficult because the vaccines must be temperature controlled and kept at the proper temperature at all times. The distribution chain currently has health care providers ordering doses with delivery the following week. In addition, the state is distributing one-third of the vaccinations delivered, has one-third in reserve and the last one third committed to pharmacies for vaccination of long-term care residents. She said the state is trying to keep one and a half weeks’ worth of vaccines in its bank, including second doses. Currently, Wisconsin is getting 70,000 doses of vaccine per week. She said if the Biden administration is able to distribute one million doses a day, Wisconsin would receive about 125,000 per day.

“I think that would be a great first step,” Willems Van Dijk. 

The state is using the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but Willems Van Dijk said the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine has finished trials and is waiting for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emergency approval. 

She said, “Hopefully the J&J vaccine will be effective and receive emergency use designation,” and included that there are currently two other vaccines in clinical trials. 

Willems Van Dijk said she knows some people are eager to get the vaccine and some are “wait and see.” About 10 percent of people say they will not get the vaccine at all. She said it is critical to immunize enough people to protect against the virus. “It’s really important to reach 75-80 percent immunization levels,” Willems Van Dijk said.

When asked about the Green Bay Packers play-offs this weekend allowing in person spectators and the likelihood of spreading event, Willems Van Dijk said she encourages people not to tailgate before the game, wear masks, bring along hand sanitizer, social distance as much as possible and, most importantly, cheer on the Pack.

“I’m thankful the Packers play outside,” she stated. “This will be a test.”

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