Eligibility of firefighters and law enforcement personnel to receive the COVID-19 vaccine follows its distribution to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities, but a plan for the general public’s immunization in Wisconsin remains to be seen.

“The state will be putting out a plan late next week identifying the next groups of people eligible for vaccine, but we do not know the details of the (subsequent) phases for distributing vaccine,” Watertown Health Department Director Carol Quest said.

Quest added that, despite reports in some media outlets, there is no sign-up list at present for persons age 65 and over to receive the vaccine in Wisconsin.

“Public health will be working with all of our health care partners to provide vaccine to the community following the state plan,” Quest said.

Quest discussed the COVID-19 Vaccination Distribution Implementation Program Tuesday and said Watertown is currently following this plan to provide vaccinations to Phase 1A individuals. Phase 1A includes health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

Quest said once the vaccine becomes more widely available to seniors who are not in assisted living, an appointment may be needed to receive the vaccine, depending on where a person wishes to get it. Quest said the shots will likely be available at health departments, hospitals, medical clinics and pharmacies.

An official state document, “COVID-19 Vaccination Distribution Implementation Program,” provides recommendations for coordination of COVID-19 vaccinations in the early stages of vaccine distribution.

It states that the goal for the COVID-19 response is to vaccinate at least 80% of people in Wisconsin.

According to the Wisconsin COVID-19 Vaccination Task Force, the team that developed the document, the Department of Health Services, has been working to ensure fair, safe and equitable allocation of the vaccine across the state.

The document provides information, technical support, and guidance for vaccine planning and implementation.

“The DHS will sustain and adapt the infrastructure needed to receive and distribute vaccine with maximum access and minimal dose loss or waste,” the task force said. “DHS will also educate and encourage people in Wisconsin to get vaccinated when the vaccine becomes available to them.”

According to the task force, the state is relying on local and tribal health departments to work with their partners in developing the most appropriate community approach. The goal is to connect those needing to be vaccinated with entities approved to vaccinate, and raise awareness in local jurisdictions about the importance of getting vaccinated and ways to do it.

“Public health relies on healthcare and pharmacies to collaborate in vaccinating populations and raising awareness about the need for vaccination to minimize the impact of COVID-19 and reduce death associated with the virus,” the task force said.

Some health care organizations have been able to vaccinate their own staff, including most hospitals.

Watertown Regional Medical Center Marketing and Communications Coordinator Steve Hunt explained how WRMC has been handling its vaccinations, saying it is following the Wisconsin DHS guidance and is vaccinating people who fall into category 1A.

“This is starting with the highest-risk healthcare workers,” Hunt said. “We are also working collaboratively with Watertown Public Health in planning to offer the vaccine to the appropriate community healthcare workers.”

Hunt said the COVID-19 vaccine is being administered as the hospital receives product.

“We have administered upwards of 300 doses so far,” he said.

Hunt said that, in accordance with CDC guidelines, WRMC is encouraging, but not mandating, its staff and providers to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.

“There are employees who are unable to receive the vaccine and employees who are choosing not to receive the vaccine at this time,” Hunt said.

Quest said the federal government has implemented a pharmacy partnership program that matches pharmacies with long-term care facilities. The pharmacies participating then provide vaccine to staff and residents at long-term care facilities.

Quest said local public health is providing vaccine to unaffiliated health care workers, including small medical/dental clinics that will not be receiving vaccine.

Jefferson County Health Department Director/Health Officer Gail Scott said her county has a vaccine distribution/planning group that meets weekly.

“We are all working on getting out the vaccine to as many people identified in the phases as we can,” Scott said. “The dedication to getting people vaccinated is very evident in this group’s work. We have many people who have volunteered to help us, as well as great support from the county for assistance. As usual, Jefferson County and the City of Watertown are working well together to protect as many people as we can and expeditiously get the vaccine out.”

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