With more than a million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine already administered in the country, local health officials are urging the general public to be patient as the rollout ramps up in Wisconsin.
The first doses of the vaccine arrived in Jefferson County last week in Johnson Creek, and the first are expected at Fort HealthCare soon to be given to frontline workers.
The county has been fielding phone calls from the public who want to get the vaccine as soon as possible.
But officials said there is no COVID-19 vaccine list in Jefferson County to put one’s name on and calling one’s doctor will not get persons the vaccine any sooner.
“Our staff is getting calls,” said Gail Scott, director of the Jefferson County Health Department. “There is no vaccine list for people to get on to sign up for the vaccine. Especially if they are the general public. No one is putting together a list.”
The initial rollout of the vaccine is coming from the state that is following the Centers for Disease Control guidelines on who is first to get the limited supply.
Currently, frontline workers are the first to receive the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that got approval this month for emergency use.
Wisconsin received 35,100 fewer doses of the Pfizer vaccine last week than it expected, according to a report by the Associated Press. The state reported that 49,725 doses arrived, with hospital workers and those who have direct contact with COVID patients receiving the first shots.
CDC guidelines have high-risk healthcare workers and long-term care facility people as being the first to receive the vaccine.
“Right now, it’s going to health care systems. The goal is to vaccinate those people in Phase 1,” said Samroz Jakvani, epidemiologist with the Jefferson County Health Department.
The first people to get the vaccine in Phase 1A are frontline workers with direct contact with COVID patients.
Scott said nursing homes have first priority for care facilities, then assisted living and group homes are next, where staff also will be able to be vaccinated.
Phase 1B includes more healthcare workers and those over age 75, and frontline essential workers that include non-healthcare workers. People like EMS and home health workers also will be one of the first groups to receive the vaccine.
“We cannot do that (in Jefferson County) until the state picks us to get the vaccine,” Scott stated.
Phase 1C includes people 65 and older, those with high medical risks and essential workers not included in the first two phases.
Scott said Jefferson County is planning its own site for vaccinations.
It also is looking at partnerships with local medical providers and rolling the COVID vaccine out like the flu vaccine. People would contact their healthcare provider when the county has more vaccines in the months ahead.
“They would set up (the COVID vaccine like a) flu shot like they do now,” Scott said. “We are getting it rolled out as fast as possible.”
Even though very few people are experiencing an allergic response to the shot, she said medical staff still would be on hand.
“So, I envision EMS at our clinic,” Scott said.
When the vaccine does arrive in Jefferson County, the shots will begin quickly. The Pfizer vaccine requires extremely cold storage, minus-94 degrees. So, smaller hospitals might not have the storage facilities for that.
However, Scott said the vaccine can be stored for a short period of time with dry ice, and the vaccinations would begin when the doses arrive.
“The state is really making all those decisions right now,” Jakvani said. “It really does affect the logistics of where they will ship the vaccine.”
The Moderna vaccine that was approved right before the holidays has much less requirements on storage.
But what vaccine people get might not be up to them.
“The state right now has said that people won’t be able to pick,” Scott said of what vaccine will be offered where.
Jakvani noted that if people were set on one vaccine, in the future they might be able to find providers who carry the one they are seeking.
One of the biggest challenges Jefferson County faces, like any county, is getting people to want to take a new vaccine with new technology. But so far, that has not been a big issue.
“Initially we were a little more apprehensive,” Jakvani said.
But people have showed a willingness to get the vaccine when their time comes, he added.
“Our biggest challenge is to have people adhere to the public health measures until we can relax them,” Jakvani said. “We have to have people stay patient.”
The epidemiologist said it will take months to reach herd immunity, something Dr. Anthony Fauci said could be attained from 70 to 85 percent of the nation getting the vaccine.
And that will take a lot of time.
“Late spring to early summer,” Jakvani said. “It really depends on how the vaccine rollout goes.”
Even with a vaccine, Scott said not letting one’s guard down is key. The shot will not be perfect. There still is a small chance of contracting coronavirus even after taking the vaccine.
“It doesn’t mean if you are vaccinated you can move freely and go about life as normal,” she said. “Until data shows that this thing is going away, we still need to continue (safe) practices.”
The county also is trying to ramp up testing, something that has fallen off in recent weeks.
There were 1,335 new cases of the virus reported on Monday. And in Jefferson County there has been 6,489 people who have had the virus since the start of the pandemic.
“If you are feeling ill or having symptoms, isolate,” Jakvani urged. “And contact people you have come in contact with.”
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been proven to be relatively safe through data, he noted.
“We have to look at the data to make sure people are safe,” Jakvani stated.
For those who have worries about taking the COVID vaccine, both Scott and Jakvani said they are ready.
“I am personally not worried. I will take the vaccine when it is first available to me,” Jakvani said.
For Scott, there was excitement to this moment that finally is close to fruition.
“Have you seen the cartoon ‘The Road Runner’?” Scott asked. “That’s how fast I will transport myself to a provider to get a vaccine.”
The county also has a new vaccine page on its dashboard and officials are encouraged by the enthusiasm residents are showing.
As New Year’s Eve is Thursday, a time to reflect on the year, Scott said she appreciates all the things that residents have done to keep themselves safe during this pandemic. This, she said, not only helps stop the spread of the virus, but also helps slow the patient level at hospitals.
While the virus has been hard on everyone, Scott also has seen the impact of the virus on medical staff.
“I talked to a medical professional last night. She was so tired, and she could barely keep her head up,” Scott said. “She is so discouraged.”
She said she hopes people were able to social distance over the holidays, especially with another opportunity to gather this long weekend.
“I haven’t seen my family at all,” Scott said. “I don’t know why people yell at us when we have to do the exact same thing.”
Throughout this entire pandemic, she and Jakvani have not been able to meet in person.
But a week ago they finally got to see each other, and Scott said she stopped herself from giving him a hug.
“I’m a hugger,” she said.
While the vaccine is on its way, the reality of the virus still is here.
Scott said four new deaths were reported to her last week, with the number continuing to grow in the county.
“I really felt joy that the vaccines were working,” Scott said. “They were a good and safe vaccine, and approved.”
While there is a lot of work ahead to roll out the vaccine, both Scott and Jakvani are looking forward to a day when they can do some of the simple things in life they have put off this year, staying safe while continuing to work long hours.
“I got married in the middle of a pandemic in July,” Jakvani said, having to put off any honeymoon. “I want to go to Bali.”
For Scott, she wants to spend time with family.
“The first thing I want to do is hug my son,” she said. “We usually go out to eat once a week and I want to do that.
“And I want to go back to church and sing.”