Empower Wisconsin | Jan. 28, 2021
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — The Evers administration continues to stumble and bumble its way through COVID-19 vaccine distribution, with the Badger State ranking 46th in doses administered.
Wisconsin lagged behind all of its Midwest neighbors this week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine distribution and administration data tracker.
On Tuesday, the state had administered 318,096 of its 685,100 doses received from the federal government, or about 46 percent. That paled in comparison to the national leader, North Dakota, which had administered nearly 87 percent of its 86,750 doses. The top 5 states included New Mexico, West Virginia, South Dakota and Connecticut, each administering 70 percent of their available vaccine or better.
Dr. Kalpana Kumar, a Pewaukee-based internal medicine specialist, told Empower Wisconsin that things haven’t improved much from the state’s chaotic rollout of its distribution initiative.
“It’s still pretty chaotic,” she said. That was the descriptor she used when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel interviewed her for a story about the Evers’ administration’s “Bizarre, disorganized” launch of its COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan. Those were the salad days, when Wisconsin ranked 10th slowest out of 12 Midwest states in getting the vaccine out.
Kumar, a long-time practicing physician, told the newspaper at the time that no one from the state Department of Health Services or the local health department communicated when she and her staff would receive vaccinations.
She told Empower Wisconsin on Wednesday that she finally received her first dose after the article ran, and she is scheduled to receive her second and final dose next week.
“A lot of health providers were able to magically get the vaccine after the piece came out,” the doctor said.
That’s the problem, lawmakers critical of the administration have said. Without the public pressure from news outlets and health care organizations, frontline health care professionals and the state’s most vulnerable populations would still be waiting. Many are, regardless of the headlines.
“The troubling thing for me is that DHS seems to not have any urgency in this situation, whatsoever,” said state Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) during an Assembly Health Committee hearing this week on bills aimed at fixing the vaccine distribution mess. Sanfelippo chairs the committee.
“This agency should be taking a lead role in protecting people’s health, but it has dropped the ball,” he said.
DHS officials say they are working as fast as they can to get more Wisconsinites vaccinated. But the Evers administration’s smothering bureaucracy has slowed the approval of the priority groups of residents to get the shot. Earlier this week, after two-plus weeks of deliberations, a DHS committee finally signed off on Phase 1B, which will include people 65 and older, teachers, grocery store workers, prisoners and others.
Kumar said communication from the state and local health officials continues to be horrendous. In too many cases, the doctor said, the small private practices have been pushed to the back of the line as the state prioritizes larger “corporate” health care providers. And it’s the patients, particularly elderly patients, who suffer.
Sanfilippo said his office has taken a lot of calls from confused and frustrated constituents.
“Every day, all of our offices are getting contacted. I’ve spoken to constituents who are in their 80s trying to navigate when they can get shot,” the lawmaker said. “There’s no place for them to go to get answers.”