Wisconsin Hubs Receive COVID-19 Vaccine

By Will Kenneally

December 16, 2020

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Pharmacy tech handles covid vaccine

UW Health pharmacy technician Nikolas Gardner handles the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Dec. 14, 2020. (Courtesy: UW Health)

Wisconsin has received roughly 50,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as state health care workers began receiving the vaccine this week.

“While the arrival of the vaccine is a critical and exciting milestone, and so very important to our ability to end the covid-19 pandemic, it is early and our vaccine distribution process will continue to evolve as the amount of vaccine coming into the state changes,” said health secretary Andrea Palm.

She said she is unsure how many doses the state will receive in the next round of allocations, which she said will likely be next week.

The state received its first doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday, and has begun distributing it through regional hubs, which were chosen based on their ability to provide the sub-zero temperatures needed to store the vaccine according to Palm.

UW Health in Madison is serving as one of those hubs.

“It’s a very exciting time,” said Aaron Webb, pharmacy manager at UW Health. “Our goal is to try and start vaccinating people, pretty much immediately.”

Among those first to receive the vaccine in Wisconsin will be frontline health care workers and those living in long term care facilities. This is part of a three-tiered approach that will other essential workers—like first responders—receive the vaccine next, followed by older and at-risk populations.

“We have a ways to go before the vaccine is widely available enough for the general public,” Palm said. “We’ll certainly be ready when the time comes.”

She said distribution of the vaccine could look similar to the annual flu vaccine when it becomes available to the general population. In some of the earlier tiers however, Palm said the state has activated a partnership between the Centers for Disease control and national pharmacy chains to help distribute the virus in skilled nursing facilities.

This is also while the state awaits federal approval of the Moderna vaccine, which could come in a matter of days. Palm said the Moderna vaccine, which does not need extremely cold storage temperatures, could be shipped directly to vaccination sites, instead of the current hub-and-spoke model for the Pfizer vaccine.

This comes as the state is seeing a decrease in the number of coronavirus cases. Wisconsin recorded 2,402 new cases Wednesday, which is a sharp decline from the 6,500 average daily cases the state saw a month ago.

Palm said the numbers are encouraging, paired with fewer hospitalizations with COVID-19 symptoms, and likely mean the state avoided a coronavirus spike after the Thanksgiving holiday.

“While this is certainly hopeful news, we have to continue to drive down our numbers—we have to continue to be really vigilant about mask wearing, about staying at home, about good hand hygiene,” she said.

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