DHS, GOP point fingers over COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Wisconsin

The road to herd immunity is starting off a little bumpy. Republican lawmakers and the Evers Administration are pointing fingers over the slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in Wisconsin.

If you ask state health officials about the coronavirus vaccine distribution, they will tell you they have made incredible progress.

Julie Willems Van Dijk

"I think we’re really hitting our stride," said Julie Willems Van Dijk, Wisconsin DHS Deputy Secretary.

Wisconsin Republicans have a different take.

"That’s just unacceptable," said State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin).

"That's unacceptable," said State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills).

"This is absolutely unacceptable," said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester).

Gov. Tony Evers

When Gov. Tony Evers delivered his annual State of the State address Tuesday night, he used the word "vaccine" just twice.

"We’re working to distribute the vaccine doses as quickly and as fairly as we can," Evers said.

But Assembly Speaker Vos made the vaccine rollout a highlight of his response.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos

"There seems to be no sense of urgency with the Evers Administration," Vos said. "Wisconsin is an embarrassment compared to other states."

Data from the CDC shows Wisconsin is lagging behind other states in vaccine administration -- 41st in the nation as of Friday, Jan. 15.

"Are we using, as fast as we get the vaccines from the federal government, are we getting them in the arms of the general public?" asked Sanfelippo.

Assembly Health Committee

On Thursday, the state's Assembly Health Committee peppered a DHS executive for an explanation.

"I want to be clear that that supply chain is not in Wisconsin’s control. What we receive on a week to week basis is an allocation from the federal government," said Lisa Olson, DHS Assistant Deputy Secretary.

Olson told lawmakers they are only getting 70,000 doses a week from Washington -- a per capita rate that is 47th in the country.

"It’s the number of doses coming into our state," Willems Van Dijk said.

Willems Van Dijk said once the vaccine is here, they still have to get it to the right people.

"This is a really complex process and I think we’ve done an incredible job," Willems Van Dijk said.

But State Assemblyman Joe Sanfelippo said that is where the system is bogging down.

"I have been contacted by vaccinators telling me we have vaccine on the shelf, ready to go. But we’ve gone through all the approved people so far, and we can’t get any answers from DHS if we can continue to keep vaccinating," Sanfelippo said.

That is because the state still has not decided who should be vaccinated next.

"The rollout has not gone real smoothly," said Jonathan Temte, Vaccine Subcommittee Co-Chair.

Last week, a state vaccine subcommittee put out a Phase 1b plan for public comment. This coming week, it comes back to the subcommittee -- which send it on to the full committee -- which sends it to the governor for final approval. 

"By the time we agree who’s gonna be in group 1B, the rest of the country’s going to have passed us up," Sanfelippo said.

COVID-19 vaccine in Wisconsin

"The federal government gave us guidelines, I think they’re very reasonable," Darling said.

Sen. Darling said the whole exercise is unnecessary since federal guidelines for each phase already exist.

"They are duplicating the list that the federal government put out," Darling said.

While Republicans and the Evers Administration point fingers, millions of Wisconsin residents are still wondering when they will get a vaccine. If there is one thing everyone agrees on -- time is of the essence.

Lisa Olson

"We share your interest in getting vaccines into arms as quickly as possible," Olson said.

"This is too important of an issue. People’s lives are at stake. We should be focused on one thing and one thing only. Getting as many people immunized as fast as possible," Sanfelippo said.

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State health officials say it could be May or June before mass vaccinations are available to the general public.

The CEO of the Medical College of Wisconsin said he "hopes" we can begin to relax some COVID-19 restrictions by this summer. But he said the key is having 75% of the population exposed to the virus, either through infection or vaccination.

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