COVID vaccine: Wisconsin efforts to increase rates

From mandates to incentives to encouragement, the push to increase the COVID-19 vaccination rate across Wisconsin is taking multiple forms.

A COVID-19 vaccine mandate for Milwaukee city employees goes into effect on Sept. 1, and unvaccinated employees will have until Oct. 29 to prove vaccination.

"This is being done out of an abundance of caution, and concern for our employees and the public. This is the right thing to do to help us end this pandemic," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said, also citing Monday's U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of the Pfizer vaccine.

The city of Milwaukee will give employees two hours of paid leave to get vaccinated, and it will provide exemptions for specific medical and religious reasons.

Roughly 50.8% of Wisconsin residents are fully vaccinated as new cash payouts try to get that number higher. Gov. Tony Evers will offer state residents ages 12 and older a $100 gift card for getting their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine if the shot comes between Aug. 20 and Labor Day.

"He could offer me $5 million and I’m not putting that stuff in my body," Racine resident Safiyah Mirsberger Tolson said.

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"If they have to pay people to get vaccinations, I think we who got our vaccinations ought to get retroactive pay and if that works, that’s fair," said Racine resident John Nickelsen. "Paying an incentive and ignoring the people that were responsible, I don’t think that makes any sense."

FOX6 News asked Gov. Evers about that criticism, he replied: "I was one of the biggest skeptics of incentivizing for that very reason. But we just reached a point where we just had to move more quickly, and I frankly gave in and said, ‘OK, we will do an incentive program that has worked in one of our neighboring states, that being Minnesota.’" 

FILE - A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is prepared on May 3, 2021 in Naples, Italy. (Photo by Ivan Romano/Getty Images)

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is prepared. (Photo by Ivan Romano/Getty Images)

More than 79,000 newly vaccinated Minnesotans signed up for the state’s $100 Visa gift card offer, Gov. Tim Walz’s office announced Monday, according to FOX 9.

"What I say to those of us who have already received our vaccines, thank you very much for doing what you do, not only for keeping yourselves safe, but your friends and neighbors safe, also," Gov. Evers continued.

Gov. Tony Evers

The governor said he hopes the FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine will also lead to more vaccinations.

"Many people said many times that they are waiting for final approval and they finally have final approval for one of these vaccines, so I am assuming that they were telling the truth when they said that, and they are going to get right out there and get a vaccine," Gov. Evers said.

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"It’s hard because I’ve been going back and forth with the vaccine. Half of my family is vaccinated, half is not. And I’ve been going back and forth…you wonder, it was created so quickly," said Kiersten Gruen, Racine resident. "I know they are now offering what? A hundred dollars. Would that make me get it? No. It actually makes me a little bit more leary to get it, to have to pay somebody to get the vaccine, makes you wonder even more."

The Wisconsin Bishops – Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, La Crosse and Superior – are encouraging people to get the vaccine, citing moral responsibility to protect lives. They recommend pastors not sign off on religious exemptions.

The bishops said that no one should force another to get the vaccine and that people are bound to follow their conscience. If someone does not get vaccinated, the bishops said, they should adhere to face covering and social distancing.

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