Wisconsin Vaccine Panel: We Need Health Care Workers Immunized Against COVID-19

State Advisory Panel Discusses Who Should Get First Shots, Where Limited Doses Of Coronavirus Vaccine Should Go

An example of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine vial
An example of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine vial is visible on a desk before a Senate Transportation subcommittee hybrid hearing on transporting ​a coronavirus vaccine on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020, in Washington. Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

The list of health care workers in Wisconsin who may be eligible for a limited supply of the coronavirus vaccine is long. The number of those who will actually get — and want — the shot is likely to be much lower.

A state advisory committee is working out these details now that federal regulators have approved emergency use authorization for a vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech. Another vaccine made by Moderna will also be considered for approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration soon.

“There’s all kinds of issues. We don’t know the number of doses and when they’re coming,” said Thomas Harter, a member of the Vaccine Distribution Subcommittee of the State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee (SDMAC). The group met Friday morning.

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State health officials have said Wisconsin can expect roughly 65,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine in the initial shipment. But how many doses come after that, and when Wisconsin can expect them isn’t yet known. These variables are what vaccine experts who are part of SDMAC need to pin down before making recommendations to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services on which organizations get the vaccine and how much.

“The severity of disease is so bad in Wisconsin right now that we anticipate every organization that applied to be a vaccinator is going to get a portion of their request,” Harter told WPR after the meeting. “We expect it to be a percentage, maybe 20-30 percent of all requests are going to be filled rather than focusing on pockets of geographic severity of disease or where there are staff shortages and things like that because those are fluid right now.”

Officials at Advocate Aurora Health, the largest health provider in eastern Wisconsin, have said they are preparing to vaccinate staff against COVID-19 next week, assuming the Pfizer vaccine is approved by federal regulators which the New York Times says could come as early as this weekend.

After FDA approval, state health officials will need to approve plans to distribute vaccine to the various organizations that requested it. Harter, who works at Gundersen Health System in western Wisconsin, said it could be Christmas or New Year’s before the first doses of coronavirus shots are administered.

Health care personnel and nursing home workers and residents will be in the first group to get vaccinated. But shots will not be required, state officials say, and employers may shy away from making it mandatory.

“If we have a lot of vaccine-hesitant health care workers, certainly we need them immunized to promote the common good. We need to keep our health care systems working. But one of (the subcommittee’s) principles was respect for people. I don’t think there’s going to be mandates in many organizations,” said Rajiv Naik, a member of the SDMAC subcommittee.

Subcommittee co-chair Ann Lewandowski said the process by which federal regulators review vaccines is transparent and that the public can review the same scientific data the FDA is looking at.

Wisconsin has 450,000 health care workers who could be vaccinated state health officials said.