Wisconsin's vaccine rollout offers hope after pandemic-altered year

More than one in five Wisconsin residents 16 and older have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

There have been trials and triumphs over the past three months as Wisconsin's vaccine rollout unfolds.

Last march, places like the Wisconsin Center sat empty as COVID-19 cases were just emerging and lockdown was imminent. Now, it's one of thousands of sites around the state offering the vaccine. 

Nine dark months into the pandemic, the vaccine was the first glimmer of hope everyone had been waiting for. The FDA granted emergency use authorization to Pfizer's two-dose COVID-19 vaccine.

FILE - The Pfizer logo is seen with a syringe and needle in this photo illustration on March 1, 2021. (Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

(Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

On Dec. 14, frontline health care workers across Wisconsin rolled up their sleeves as Phase 1a of the state's vaccine rollout got underway.

"As we head into the new year, hope is on the horizon, folks," Gov. Evers said at the time.

Two weeks later, Moderna's two-dose vaccine received FDA approval. Residents and staff of long-term care facilities began receiving their shoots. People age 65 and older soon followed.

"This is the population that has died at the highest rates," said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

(Photo by Alex Gottschalk/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

More vaccine providers also began opening their doors -- from the Wisconsin Center to Walgreens to the state's first community-based clinic.

"It’s all going to be very slick, very easy for folks," Gov. Evers said.

While vaccine eligibility grew, challenges emerged as well. More contagious trains of the virus were discovered in Wisconsin.
"An additional wave of infections could occur," said Dr. Ryan Westergaard with the state's Bureau of Communicable Diseases.

Debbie Isiekwene

Data show geographical and racial disparities among those receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

"We actually asked for 100 doses this week. Not even one single dose did we get," Pharmacist Debbie Isiekwene, with Experience Pharmacy in Milwaukee, said in February.

Officials with the DHS blamed the limited supply of vaccine from the federal government, vowing to do a better job at distributing doses equitably. 

"It has been very challenging. Our team is definitely looking at our allocation strategy," Willems Van Dijk said.

COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Wisconsin Center

On March 1, educators became eligible in an effort to reopen schools as soon as possible.
"I’ve been wanting to get this for a while because I work with small children," said Christie Kessler, a Wauwatosa day care teacher.

This week, 48,000 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine entered the mix. People 16 and older with certain medical conditions learned, too, that they'll be next in line. The governor and DHS announced it would be the final priority group before eligibility opens up to the general public in May.

"We've seen a significant increase in vaccine," said Willems Van Dijk.

The goal is to reach herd immunity sometime this summer.
"We are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel," Gov. Evers said.

A year into the pandemic, three months of vaccinations provided a glimmer of hope that is now shining bright.
Currently, the Milwaukee Health Department is running vaccine operations at the Wisconsin Center. However, FEMA will arrive Monday, opening the site to anyone in the region -- not just city residents and employees.

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