Federal Distribution Continues to Inhibit COVID-19 Vaccination

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Michelle Phillips

MADISON–No one was happy with the number of vaccines they received last week, Julie Willems Van Dijk, Wisconsin Department of Health (DHS) Deputy Secretary told a group of reports in a virtual press conference on Tuesday. Willems Van Dijk was referring to the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to health care providers and health departments that requested nearly 300,000 doses.

“We could only fulfill 27 percent of their requests,” she said.

She reiterated that more vaccine is needed in the state and said that supply is one of three things needed to deliver vaccines, public demand and infrastructure to deliver the vaccines are the others. “We have public demand, and we have built the infrastructure to make vaccinating successful,” she explained, and said she knew waiting was difficult.

Willems Van Dijk said the department has been making an effort to fairly distribute the vaccines to all parts of the start. Federal health care providers have been working with churches and organizations within communities of color and indigenous communities to make sure they are educated on the vaccine and that doses are available in their communities. She said they know that transportation is sometimes a barrier in those communities as well as within the elderly population and are working to make the vaccine accessible to all. 

Vaccine distribution is set at no less than 50 doses of the Moderna vaccine, which has inhibited its distribution in rural areas. The Pfizer vaccine can be distributed in lesser amounts, but Willems Van Dijk said that effort has been stymied by the number of delivery drivers available to transport the vaccine, which requires deep freeze storage. 

“We continue to review the allocations and do the best we can to make equitable distributions,” she stated.

She added that even high throughput systems received far less doses than they requested, receive only about 20 percent.

She said health care providers will work with those who may not be tech savvy and do not have access to MyChart or the DHS website. Health care providers will reach out to their patients, and the state will have a phone number to help people make appointments to get vaccinated. 

In addition, free clinics will be set up to vaccinate those that are uninsured.

Willems Van Dijk said that although she is often talking about challenges within the system, vaccination rates are generally increasing and 578,335 people in Wisconsin have received vaccines–over 100,000 have gotten the second dose of vaccine. She also noted that the state is on par with other Midwest states in regard to distribution per 100,000 residents.

Dr. Stephanie Schauer, Division of Public Health Immunization Program Manager, addressed the skepticism some health care workers in nursing homes and skilled care facilities may have about receiving the vaccine after a reporter asked about the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) reporting those facilities have a 62 percent refusal rate among employees. 

“We know there is a ‘moveable middle,’ they want to see others vaccinated or know someone who has been vaccinated first,” she said. She included that she hopes some of group 1a that initially skipped the vaccine will be more willing to get it now that it has been distributed for a couple of months.

Willems Van Dijk was asked about variants of COVID-19 in the state and said there has only been one known case, so far. Genomic sequencing can detect the variant and she encouraged those who have traveled to be screened. 

The variant is highly contagious, and the CDC has suggested Americans “double mask” when they go out. Willems Van Dijk agreed that two masks provide more protection, but the best option is an N95 mask. 

She said residents must continue to wear their masks, social distance and wash their hands.

“Virologists say we should not sit back on our laurels,” she said.

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