Some Wisconsin Health Workers Eager For COVID-19 Vaccine They Can’t Get Yet

Employees Of Large Health Systems First In Line, While EMTs, Dentists Among Those Still Waiting

A nurse draws Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine into a syringe
A nurse draws Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine into a syringe Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, at Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City. Sue Ogrocki/AP Photo

As health care workers clamor to get vaccinated against COVID-19, some are wondering when they’ll get their turn.

In the first week of Wisconsin’s phased-in vaccination approach, more than 10,000 nurses, respiratory therapists, doctors and other frontline staff were immunized. But there are more than 400,000 health care workers in the state and Wisconsin doesn’t have that amount of vaccine yet from the federal government.

The first to get shots were employees of large health care systems which could handle and store the vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech and requires ultra-cold temperatures.

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Now the state is getting a second vaccine made by Moderna which is easier to store and ship.

As the amount of available vaccine slowly grows, there’s pressure from some working in the health field who have been designated as a priority but haven’t gotten a shot or any indication exactly when they will get one.

In Dane County, the local health department is collecting names of area medical workers who qualify for the first round of vaccinations but aren’t affiliated with a health system.

This includes EMS workers who have no way to get a COVID-19 shot because they don’t work for hospitals which are inoculating their own staff first.

EMS staff will be first in line using a randomized process that ensures the vaccine is distributed fairly, said Sarah Mattes, communications supervisor for Public Health Madison and Dane County.

Others working closely with patients are eager to get vaccinated as well. This includes dentists.

“We (dentists and hygienists) recognize the risk, and we certainly don’t want to hop ahead in line. We just want to make sure the priorities outlined in the allocation guidance are followed independent of where you work, whether you are in a small practice or are part of a large health system,” said Dr. Benjamin Farrow, who owns Monroe Street Family Dental.

Many dental practices, including Farrow’s, implemented safety precautions so they could continue to operate during the pandemic.

Dentists were assumed to be at high risk for COVID-19, which is spread through respiratory droplets. But a report in the Journal of the American Dental Association showed fewer than 1 percent of dentists nationwide were found to be COVID-19 positive.

Some dentists not only want to be protected from the disease themselves; they also want to be able to administer coronavirus shots to patients.

“We’re highly trained and skilled health care professionals. We do a lot of injections already. Of course, most of its anesthetic. Some are doing IV sedation, there’s botox. So it’s not a foreign type of procedure to us. And I think with the proper training we could certainly help,” said Paula Crum, a periodontist in Green Bay and president of the Wisconsin Dental Association.

Illinois and Minnesota already allow dentists to do vaccinations, she said. A bill was introduced in the Wisconsin Legislature this spring before the pandemic but was not taken up.