Empower Wisconsin | Jan. 7, 2021
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers was livid when Republicans proposed legislation requiring the administration to create a COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan. He and his team could handle it.
Mainstream media outlets this week reported what Wisconsin Spotlight warned more than three weeks ago: Evers didn’t have a plan and had failed — again — to communicate a critical policy issue.
Wisconsin this week badly lagged much of the Midwest in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to frontline healthcare workers and senior citizens, particularly nursing home residents. Wisconsin ranked 10th out of the 12 Midwest states in delivering the life-saving vaccine to its residents, with just 1.2 percent of the population being vaccinated as of earlier this week. That’s fractionally lower than the national average of 1.3 percent.
It’s not a question of availability. Wisconsin, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, has administered just a third of the doses it has received, ninth lowest of the 12 Midwest states.
“Physicians and senior citizens have confirmed to the press and lawmakers that they are struggling to receive the vaccine even though they are the national priority to receive it,” said state Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Cedarburg) in a press release.
“It’s chaos,” Kalpana Kumar, a Pewaukee-based private practice medical doctor, told the newspaper. “I haven’t received any communication.”
In a special report on Dec. 17, Wisconsin Spotlight warned of looming problems ahead as the Evers administration acknowledged there would be some delay in getting vaccines to nursing homes. While there were certainly logistical complications beyond the administration’s control in the roll out, lawmakers at the time said they had little confidence Team Evers was adequately prepared.
State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin), chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, foresaw what Kumar, the Pewaukee doctor, is now experiencing.
“This administration is notorious for poor planning. Look at the Department of Workforce Development debacle,” Sanfelippo said, referring to the administration’s problems with settling thousands of unemployment claims. “This is just par for the course for them.”
Evers has said his administration has been preparing for some time in advance of the final federal approvals of a coronavirus vaccine. If so, he and DHS officials have not adequately communicated his plans to the Legislature and the general public, legislative sources said. Legislative offices told Empower Wisconsin last month that their constituents have said the lack of information from the governor’s office has left them confused about when they and their loved ones in long-term care facilities might expect to receive a vaccination.
“It seems like they don’t want to make an attempt to work with anybody other than themselves,” Sanfelippo said. “They have this inner circle they deal with, but they don’t talk to anybody else.”
Officials from the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs in mid-December still weren’t sure when the vaccine would be distributed to the three state-run veterans homes.
In early December, the governor sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human services asking that Wisconsin be prioritized ahead of other states in vaccine distribution. It was a political effort, mostly blaming the Wisconsin Supreme Court for checking his administration’s expanded pandemic powers.
When the vaccines arrived, Evers apparently wasn’t up to the challenge.
“Our previous proposal required Gov. Evers to create a vaccine distribution plan. Last month the governor made it very clear he would not sign a bill if the provision remained, and so unfortunately it was removed,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said this week.
“Wisconsin is lacking in our response, and the governor needs to act now.”