Nursing home residents at Meadowbrook in Chetek, along with staff, will have the opportunity to receive a new vaccine that protects against the coronavirus.

Nursing home administrators said this week that the shots will be available for Meadowbrook’s roughly 50 residents and 71 staff on Saturday, Jan. 16.

Natalie Smith, sales and marketing director for Synergy Senior Care, the parent company of Meadowbrook, said the company was excited to have the new vaccine arrive. Operation Warp Speed was the public-private partnership that developed the new vaccines to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and the operation is now distributing vaccines nationwide. The first two vaccines are made by Pfizer and Moderna.

The vaccine is being distributed to nursing homes by pharmacies, like Walgreens or CVS. Meadowbrook in Chetek is getting the Moderna vaccine, Smith said.

It will be free and voluntary to Meadowbrook staff and residents. Based on other nursing homes, Smith expected a sign-up rate of around 75 percent.

“It’s really kind of a simple process. You fill out some paperwork, you get your shot, you get your sticker and you wait 10-15 minutes to make sure there’s no side effects,” she said about the whole process. The Moderna vaccine requires a second dose four weeks after the first. The Pfizer vaccine is similar.

Each person also gets a vaccination card, that provides proof of their vaccination and the date. The vaccines are said to be around 95 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 symptoms.

The shots are similar to getting the flu shot, Smith had heard. Your arm might be sore or tender afterward, otherwise there were few side effects, Smith said.

The vaccines were announced in December and that is when Synergy applied to get their allocation of vaccines from the state, which receives them through Warp Speed. “It’s been pretty seamless,” Smith said of the process.

Last week, deputy secretary for Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Julie Willems Van Dijk, said vaccines will eventually be available for more people.

“Everyone in Wisconsin who wants a vaccine, will get a vaccine, but it will take some time,” Willems Van Dijk said. The limiting factor was the supply from the federal government, she added.

She said DHS is trying to balance supply and demand and avoid having providers with too many doses sitting around. That is why it seems there is always a shortage and delivery is behind the demand. It takes about seven to 10 days from first shipment to vaccination, she said.

Willems Van Dijk explained the federal government determines how many doses are allocated to each state based on population. Then, the state health department surveys the capacity of registered vaccinators—usually health care providers or pharmacies—to see where the new doses should be sent. The Pfizer vaccine requires special, ultra-cold storage, and the Moderna vaccine requires refrigeration or freezing, complicating the process somewhat.

Once received by the health care providers or pharmacies, vaccination clinics are scheduled and, finally, shots are given.

When it first rolled out, there were only 108 providers. Now there are 1,066 clinics and pharmacies that can handle the vaccinations.

“In this third and fourth week of vaccination distribution, we have thrown the net quite a bit wider,” Willems Van Dijk said, explaining the recent jump in doses being administered across the state.

There are three main phases to Wisconsin’s vaccine distribution plan. Phase 1 is for certain essential workers and nursing home residents. The general public will be offered the vaccine in Phases 2 and Phase 3, after Phase 1 is mostly completed.

Phase 1 is broken down further. Currently the state is Phase 1A, for frontline health care workers and nursing home residents. For health care workers not affiliated with the larger health systems getting the vaccines—like Mayo, Marshfield and Cumberland Health—Barron County Department of Health and Human Services said those unaffiliated health care workers should fill out the survey for a vaccine at www.barroncountywi.gov or call 715-537-6123.

Essential workers and people 75 and older will be next in Phase 1B. People 65–74 years old and those with underlying health conditions will be in Phase 1C.

For now, assisted living residents are not included in DHS’ Phase 1A, so Meadowbrook assisted living residents will have to wait for Phase 1B or 1C, Smith said. But some long-term living facilities are getting vaccines directly from the federal pharmacy partnership program.

As of Tuesday, Jan. 12, 607,650 doses had been allocated to the state, with 373,100 shipped and 163,371 administered. An additional 197,000 of the allocated doses were going to nursing homes and assisted living facilities through the federal pharmacy partnership program.

For Smith, the vaccines offered a bit of hope for Meadowbrook residents, staff, residents’ family members and the community at large.

Meadowbrook will continue do what is in the best interest of residents’ health and safety, but Smith felt hopeful that the vaccinations will lead to more options for everyone.

“Do I think that because people get the vaccine we’re going to open the doors wide? I don’t,” Smith explained. But nursing homes may be able to find some creative ways for people to see their loved ones sooner than later. She doesn’t know what that may look like or when, but it’s a conversation nursing homes can start having now. Likely, any changes to guidelines will come from the state DHS.

“Without the vaccine, there would be no change,” Smith said. “But there’s hope for change.”

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