Finding vaccines may get easier as COVID-19 infections drop

    Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes speaks to press before getting his COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
    Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes speaks to press before getting his COVID-19 vaccine in early April. (Isiah Holmes | Wisconsin Examiner)

    A recent and worrisome slow increase in new coronavirus infections may be easing — but to keep that going, state health officials are reiterating the need for people to remain cautious in public and encouraging more state residents to get vaccinated.

    “We must commit to stopping the spread,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) at the department’s weekly media briefing Thursday. “So please keep wearing your mask and physically distancing. And please get vaccinated.”

    To make finding vaccines easier, Van Dijk said, starting in May the state will shift from its current online vaccine sign-up portal  to an online vaccine-locating tool established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The new VaccineFinder service will direct users to available sources of vaccines based on their zip codes.

    The daily count of new cases  of the virus, which had been rising since early March, has begun to  decline, according to DHS data posted Thursday. Among tests administered, the seven-day average for positive tests has been slowly declining as well, down to 3.3% on Wednesday after hitting a recent high of 3.8% two weeks ago on April 8.

    More than 4 million doses of one of the three COVID-19 vaccines in use have been administered in Wisconsin, with nearly 2.4 million state residents getting at least their first dose — more than 50% of people who are 16 or older, the total population of eligible vaccine recipients, Van Dijk said. 

    Nearly 3 out of 10 Wisconsin residents have been completely vaccinated, receiving two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or else the single dose Johnson & Johnson version. Almost 80% of state residents who are 65 years old or older have gotten at least one dose, and just over 73% in that age group have completed the vaccination process, Van Dijk said.

    While there has been a decline in recent weeks in vaccines given, Van Dijk said the demand in the state still exceeds supply. A large batch of Johnson & Johnson doses early in April — followed by the pause in its use while health officials review reports of extremely rare blood clots in a handful of recipients — also skewed some of the recent trends in vaccination numbers, she added. 

    A federal panel reviewing the vaccine will meet Friday to decide whether to recommend resumption in the use of the Johnson & Johnson shot or a longer delay.

    Meanwhile, Van Dijk said, children 12 to 15 may soon become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine as well. 

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.