Milwaukee’s Vaccination Efforts Slowed By Dated Infrastructure, A Lack Of Funding

City Planning To Begin To Vaccinate Those 65 And Older Starting Monday

Black curtains hang in a large conference room to section off spaces for vaccine administration
The Wisconsin Center is set up for COVID-19 vaccinations Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Milwaukee’s interim health commissioner says years of underfunding the department has slowed down COVID-19 vaccination in the city because the right infrastructure isn’t in place.

The Milwaukee Health Department has been vaccinating health care workers, first responders and some law enforcement officials since Jan. 7. And while people age 65 and older have been eligible to receive the vaccine since Monday, Milwaukee will begin administering doses to that group starting Feb. 1.

Marlaina Jackson, who has been serving as Milwaukee’s interim health commissioner since September, said as of right now, people interested in getting the vaccine can visit to register, but they can’t yet schedule an appointment.

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Jackson told the city’s Public Safety and Health Committee that the department has been working on a new computer system to remedy that, and it should be up and running next week.

Alder Marina Dimitrijevic said she doesn’t understand why this is just being done now.

“I feel that we’ve known a vaccine was coming for quite some time, and to be exploring systems right now and not a few months ago, I guess I just don’t really understand that,” Dimitrijevic said.

Jackson said when the vaccine was announced two months ago, Milwaukee’s COVID-19 cases were spiking, leaving the department busy with contact tracing and community testing. She also pointed to years of inadequate funding.

“Some of the tools that I think we need to do our basic job we just didn’t have, and we should have had,” Jackson said. “And if we did have them prior to, we would not have been scrambling. We are trying to find systems that work and that work quickly for the volume that we’re doing.”

The health department is also setting up a hotline for people in Milwaukee who don’t have internet access.

Jackson said she wants to make sure there’s equity at the forefront of the process.

A total of 47,983 COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Milwaukee County, according to a county-run coronavirus dashboard. There have been 476,854 doses of vaccine administered in Wisconsin, according to the state Department of Health Services.

As of Thursday, the overall total of positive cases in Milwaukee was 60,284. A total of 531 people in Milwaukee have died from COVID-19. Jackson said the number of cases are almost equal between Black, whites and Hispanics, but the death rate continues to be disproportionate between Black and white people.

County-wide there has been a racial disparity in the administration of the vaccine. In Milwaukee County, 29,191 white people have received the COVID-19 vaccine compared to 3,377 Black people; 2,710 Hispanic people; and 1,395 Asian people have been vaccinated.

As of right now, the vaccine is being administered at the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee. Jackson said the health department is preparing mobile vaccination units that can go into Milwaukee’s neighborhoods. But those mobile units won’t be up and running until the city receives more vaccine.