Cops and firefighters will soon get COVID-19 vaccine but Wisconsin still needs more doses

    Michele Catinella, a nurse practitioner at the John Knox Village Continuing Care Retirement Community receives a Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine from Carmen Pi, a Registered Nurse with American Medical Response on Dec. 16, 2020 in Pompano Beach, Florida. The facility, one of the first in the country to do so, vaccinated approximately 170 people including healthcare workers and elder care people. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
    POMPANO BEACH, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 16: Michele Catinella, a Nurse Practitioner at the John Knox Village Continuing Care Retirement Community receives a Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine from Carmen Pi, a Registered Nurse with American Medical Response on December 16, 2020 in Pompano Beach, Florida. The facility, one of the first in the country to do so, vaccinated approximately 170 people including healthcare workers and elder care people. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

    The Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced Monday that the state’s police officers and firefighters will be eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as next week. 

    The announcement kicks off the beginning of phase 1B in the state’s effort to immunize enough of the population to develop herd immunity against the virus that has so far killed more than 5,000 Wisconsinites. 

    Members of groups in phase 1A — mostly health care workers and those living in long term care facilities — are not yet completely vaccinated but in order to work as efficiently as possible, the state will begin phase 1B Jan. 18 when it starts immunizing the non-EMS first responders. 

    Deputy Health Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said the state estimates this includes 30,000 cops and firefighters. 

    “Our goal is to never stop vaccinating so in anticipation of reaching that phase 1A majority point soon,” Van Dijk said at a virtual press briefing Monday. “Operationally, this is a seamless way to begin our movement into phase 1B. Since our police and fire departments are already working so closely with EMS and our local and tribal health departments across the state.”

    It is not yet decided which groups will fill out the rest of phase 1B, though the State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee (SDMAC) could release its recommendations as early as Tuesday.

    Even as Wisconsin begins to increase the number of people eligible to receive the vaccine, Gov. Tony Evers and DHS officials are still requesting that Wisconsin be allocated more doses from the federal government. Van Dijk said that to quickly establish herd immunity, Wisconsin should be administering between 30-50,000 doses per day. 

    “But we can’t fully open phase 1B right now because we do not have enough vaccine,” Van Dijk said. Phase 1B, as currently being debated by SDMAC, is almost double what phase 1A is. If we have the same amount of vaccine and we nearly double the population that’s eligible to get it before we’ve even finished the first phase, we’re going to have very long lines, we’re going to have very many people very upset because they still can’t get vaccine because we don’t have enough. So the key to accelerating this, I want to say once again, is more vaccine.”

    So far, 15,465 doses is the state’s record for vaccines administered in one day. Van Dijk said the obstacle between the current level and ideal level is supply of the vaccine. 

    Even President-elect Joe Biden’s proposed plan to release the entire manufactured supply of vaccine — rather than hold back some in order to ensure there’s enough for people’s required second dose — wouldn’t reach Van Dijk’s stated goal, she said. 

    Biden aims to vaccinate one million people per day, but at that pace herd immunity wouldn’t be reached for nearly a year. Van Dijk wants the state to receive enough supply of the vaccine so Wisconsin can start vaccinating the general public by June. 

    “Given that people are dying every day from this disease, and given that people want this vaccine, I think the request of Governor Evers and our state is to please move more of that vaccine quicker because a shot in the arm is protecting a life,” Van Dijk said.

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    Henry Redman
    Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.