By Ryan Urban | Barron News-Shield
Barron County is among five counties in the state that serve as sites of community COVID-19 vaccination clinics in the next two months, according to state and local health officials.
Gov. Tony Evers, along with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, announced Tuesday, Feb. 23, that the vaccination clinics will be located in La Crosse County, Racine County and Marathon County, with the last clinic split between Douglas and Barron counties.
Selection of the sites was based on geographic diversity, relationships with health care providers, where there were willing community hosts, population centers and other factors, said DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk in a Feb. 23 media briefing.
Van Dijk explained that the split between Barron and Douglas County was made with the anticipation of doing 1,000 vaccinations per site per day.
“There just aren’t enough people to sustain that type of site over a long period of time,” she said. “Yet, we certainly don’t want to leave that part of the state bare.”
Willems Van Dijk said a vaccination team will be in Barron County for a certain portion of each week and in Douglas County for a portion of each week.
More details, such as the exact locations and hours for each site, will be forthcoming in the next couple weeks, according to DHS.
In a press release Tuesday, the governor’s office stated, “The new clinics—which are made possible through collaboration with AMI Expeditionary Healthcare, the University of Wisconsin system, local public health departments, and other local partners—were selected to address gaps in vaccine access and support vaccination efforts.”
According to Barron County Public Health, “Douglas and Barron County jointly applied to be a community-based vaccination clinic through the Western Wisconsin Public Health Readiness Consortium to bring vaccines to northern Wisconsin.”
Public Health officer Laura Sauve stated, “Regardless of where you live or work, these clinics will be available for all Wisconsinites who are eligible for the vaccine.”
The community clinics are just another option in an expanding state vaccination program.
Other options to receive the vaccine include health care providers, local pharmacies, local health departments and state mobile vaccination team clinics.
Wisconsin currently has over 1,800 vaccine providers to help get available vaccinate to those who are eligible. This includes the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, where select Walgreens continue to expand their vaccination capacity. This week, 178 Walgreens locations in Wisconsin will be receiving a total of 35,350 vaccine doses, which is double the amount from last week. Those currently eligible for a vaccine can call 1-800-Walgreens or visit the Walgreens online registration website to schedule an appointment. Supply will be limited.
County facing hurdles
to herd immunity
At the Barron County Department of Health & Human Services committee meeting on Monday, Feb. 22, public health officials said the county’s vaccination rate is lower than the state average. They also noted that there is hesitancy in minority groups about getting the vaccine.
“People are afraid of the vaccine,” said Isaak Mohamed, a public health case investigator and advocate in the Somali community.
Mohamed himself has received two doses of the vaccine, and posted a photo of himself receiving the shot on Feb. 11 on Facebook to encourage others to do the same.
“We’ve had some takers, but not as many as I hoped for,” Sauve said at Monday’s meeting, noting that there were also reservations in the local Hispanic community about the vaccine.
Barron County Public Health continues to provide information on COVID-19 and the vaccine in multiple languages.
On a whole, Barron County lags behind the state average for COVID-19 vaccination, with 12.9 percent (5,844 people) having received at least one dose while the state average is 14 percent (815,516 residents). For Barron County, 5.1 percent (2,311 residents) of the county has completed the two-dose series. Statewide, 6.3 percent (366,096 residents) of the population has gotten the two-dose series.
Supply appears to be a primary factor in the disparity.
Sauve noted that many Barron County residents have traveled to Chippewa Falls or Eau Claire to get a vaccine as local vaccinators have not received an allotment as high as they’d hoped. The demand is still high, with people still signing up on waiting lists, noted BCPH public health specialist Sarah Turner.
“We have no control over the amount of vaccine we receive each week,” Sauve said. “Get it where you can get it.”
But the addition of a community vaccination clinic and more doses for Walgreens stands to help close the gap.
Vaccine supply is increasing across the board.
Willems Van Dijk said Tuesday that the state’s total doses will be upped to 115,000 doses in each of the next two weeks, a 64 percent increase since mid-January.
But there is a long way to go.
Willems Van Dijk said the state’s 1,800 registered vaccine providers requested 350,000 doses for this week.
More than of Wisconsinites over age 65 haven’t received the vaccine.
“There’s more vaccine coming. You will not be crowded out,” said Willems Van Dijk.
Vaccine advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will meet Friday, Feb. 26, to discuss whether to recommend Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use authorization. Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are also promising to increase manufacturing of their vaccine.
Willems Van Dijk said those ages 65-plus will remain a priority, even as vaccine eligibility expands to essential workers, particularly school staff, on Monday, March 1.
She noted that COVID-19 transmission in schools has been minimal, student-to-student and student-to-staff. Most COVID-19 transmissions happen outside of schools, and most spread in schools is from staff member to staff member.
The next phase of vaccinations will include public-facing essential workers along with educators and child care workers. In particular, utility and communications infrastructure, public transit, food supply chain (ag production workers, food production workers, retail food workers and hunger relief workers), nonfrontline essential health care workers and congregate living facility staff and residents will be a part of the next phase.
Turner said public health was working with employers in the area to get employees signed up for vaccinations, rather than people finding vaccinations on their own. So rather than having to provide proof of being in an eligible category, workers will simply sign up through their employer, Turner said.
For anyone getting vaccinated, it is advised that they get their first and second doses from the same manufacturer and at the same location.
Willems Van Dijk said this simplifies vaccination efforts.
Ultimately, herd immunity against COVID-19 is marked at 70 to 90 percent, and it will take 7.4 million vaccinated people in Wisconsin to get there. To date, 1 million have received at least one dose.
But COVID-19 cases continue to drop.
This past week, Barron County reported 53 new cases, down from 61 the week before. The weekly percent positive rate was 24 percent, compared to 22.8 percent the two weeks before. Active cases stood at 84 Tuesday, down from 102 a week ago.
However, it is estimated that only about one in four cases of COVID-19 are reported. This means that total immunity may also be higher.
In Barron County 76 people have died, including two in the past week. The state’s death toll rose to more than 6,300 Tuesday, and with deaths surpassing 500,000 nationwide, Gov. Tony Evers ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff on Feb. 26.
“Get your fish fry to go and continue to catch up with family and friends virtually, physically distance and always, always wear your mask,” said Evers.
The Alert’s Carl Cooley contributed to this report.