Wisconsin could play key role in COVID-19 vaccine distribution

The U.S. may be days away from the first COVID-19 shots, and Wisconsin could play a crucial role in the process.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Thursday, Dec. 10 will weigh emergency use authorization of the Pfizer vaccine.

Once allowed, Pfizer plans to ship vaccines largely from two hubs -- one in Pleasant Prairie, one in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

"I'm pretty excited about this happening and Kenosha being on the map for good reasons for a change," said State Sen. Van Wanggaard. 

The Medical College of Wisconsin's president said it is his understanding that the vaccine is already being stored in Pleasant Prairie, on standby for the expected emergency authorization.

 

From here, the plan is to ship and fly the vaccines in temperature-controlled thermal shippers using dry ice to keep the shots ultracold. They then plan to use GPS to track its location.

However, even if on Thursday the FDA allows the vaccine to be distributed, Wisconsin health experts say life won't be getting back to normal any time soon.

Andrea Palm, Wisconsin Department of Health Services secretary-designee, estimates that might not come until late summer or fall of 2021.

"It’s the $64 million question," Palm said in a virtual COVID-19 briefing Tuesday. "I think some of this really does depend on how many vaccine candidates make it across the finish line and what timeframe and what is their manufacturing capacity?"

If the FDA allows the Pfizer drug, Wisconsin will get about 50,000 doses to start.

First in line are health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. There are more than 400,000 healthcare workers in Wisconsin. It is likely going to take months to ramp up manufacturing.

The state has been planning for the first doses. "There’s been some great plans put in place for the initial phases, for who gets the vaccine first, when there’s a limited supply. But everybody is going to work to try and get people vaccinated as soon as possible and as safety as possible," said Sarah Sorum of the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin.

With the limited initial doses, health experts warn people to remain vigilant.

"Must of us in the general population aren’t going to receive the vaccine for a little while here, so it’s really important to follow the public health recommendations around wearing masks, physical distancing and hand washing, to really slow the spread, stop the spread before we receive our vaccinations," added Sorum.

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To allow the vaccines to ship from here in Wisconsin to at least the state of California, state law may need to be changed. In particular, a California law requires third-party logistics providers to carry a special license from their home state. Wisconsin doesn't currently offer that licensure.

State Sen. Wanggaard, who represents the Pleasant Prairie area in the Wisconsin Legislature, said Pfizer told him it can wait until 2021. He told FOX6 News that he has been working with the company to craft a legislative fix. 

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