Wisconsin Health Care Workers First To Get Coronavirus Shots

Long-Awaited Vaccine Arrived At UW Health Monday

UW Health pharmacy technicians unpack a box of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine
UW Health pharmacy technicians, from left, Amy Schultz, Susan Johnston and Nikolas Gardner unpack a box of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine soon after its arrival. Photo courtesy of John Maniaci/UW Health

Eleven months after Wisconsin had its first confirmed case of COVID-19, a vaccine made by Pfizer that can prevent the disease has arrived in the state and is being given to frontline health care workers.

Gov. Tony Evers applauded the momentous occasion Monday.

“Since the early days in the pandemic, we have been planning and preparing for the arrival of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine,” Evers said in a statement. “I fully trust in the expertise of our scientists, researchers, and public health experts who are guiding our planning, preparation, and distribution.”

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Nursing home residents and workers will get vaccinated later this month through pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens. At least one hospital in Wisconsin is already administering shots to its workforce.

“We’re really excited to get started. It’s great news and an exciting week” said Dr. Matt Anderson, who is overseeing coronavirus inoculation efforts at UW Health.

UW Health began administering its first vial — which can hold five doses — Monday afternoon. Anderson said only a handful would get vaccinated initially but the effort would “ramp up” by week’s end.

UW Health respiratory therapist Tina Schubert is the first of UW Health’s health care worker to receive the coronavirus vaccine
On Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, UW Health respiratory therapist Tina Schubert, left, became the first of UW Health’s health care workers to receive the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine. Photo courtesy of UW Health.

The Madison-based health system is getting between 20 and 30 percent of the vaccine needed to protect 13,000 health care workers a federal advisory panel recommends get inoculated, said Anderson. That will be enough to vaccinate 2,200 high-priority personnel treating COVID-19 patients. This includes respiratory therapists, anesthesiologists, ICU nurses, doctors and advanced practice providers.

The timeline for when all the first doses will be administered isn’t certain, Anderson said, nor is the timeline for when more doses of the vaccine could arrive.

The SSM Health St. Mary’s hospital in Madison is expecting the vaccine to arrive Tuesday morning. The health system surveyed employees asking whether they would want the new coronavirus vaccine. Two-thirds indicated they would get inoculated, said spokesperson Kim Sveum.

As one of the regional hubs for the coronavirus vaccine, SSM Health St. Mary’s is expecting 6,000 doses which have to be stored in ultra-cold freezers until they are distributed to other health systems in southern Wisconsin, Sveum said.

UW Health pharmacy technician Nikolas Gardner stores the tray of vaccines in a freezer
UW Health pharmacy technician Nikolas Gardner stores the tray of vaccines in a freezer at UW Health. The vaccine must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius. Photo courtesy of John Maniaci/UW Health

In Milwaukee, Froedtert Hospital and the Medical College of Wisconsin expects to receive some Pfizer doses this week, but they do not yet know how many doses will be available, said Dr. John Raymond, CEO and president of the Medical College of Wisconsin.

New coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have been declining in the state but still remain high. And the time it takes new cases to double has stabilized, Raymond said. It’s now at 43 days for the state and 66 days in Milwaukee. Still, Raymond said, “they were much better than this a month or two ago.”

Many expect deaths to remain high for the next several weeks. A model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projects Wisconsin could see more than 5,000 COVID-19 deaths by the year’s end.

More than 300,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, 4,000 of them in Wisconsin.

The state Department of Health Services said Monday that even with the vaccine beginning to be distributed, it will be a long time before high vaccination coverage is reached.

“In the meantime, please continue to encourage your patients and stakeholders to continue wearing masks, physical distancing, washing their hands, and getting tested and isolating if they have signs and symptoms of COVID-19,” an email statement read. “Even after the first people get vaccinated, it is important to continue using all these COVID-19 precautions so that we stand the best chance of getting our families, communities, schools, and workplaces ‘back to normal’ sooner.”