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Evers’ vaccine fiasco leaves Waukesha County in limbo

Empower Wisconsin | Jan. 15, 2021

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — The Evers administration’s botched COVID-19 vaccine rollout has left Wisconsin’s third-largest county waiting for answers and some of its most vulnerable citizens pushed to the back of the vaccine line.

Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow tells Empower Wisconsin that the county’s health department applied in November to become a vaccinator for the state. Finally, last week county officials received word from the Department of Health Services that the application has been accepted, but the county now has “more hurdles to jump through,” Farrow said.

“We’re almost two months into it and we still haven’t been authorized,” a frustrated Farrow said Thursday.

Dane, Milwaukee, and Kenosha counties have been authorized as vaccinators, receiving the opening rounds of doses from the federal government. Brown County is expected to receive vaccinator authorization soon, according to reports. Dane and Milwaukee are leading the state in the number of vaccinations administered, according to county records. As of Monday, 21,728 doses of vaccine had been administered in Milwaukee County, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

Farrow said Waukesha County officials hope to receive authorization from DHS before the next phase — 1B— of vaccinations begin. That group would include police and firefighters, teachers, and prisoners, according to DHS State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee (SDMAC) vaccine subcommittee recommendations.  Phase 1A is supposed to include frontline health care workers and residents of the state’s nursing homes, but some doses have gone to those not considered to be part of the priority category.

Farrow said he doesn’t want to attach politics to why the liberal Evers administration is seemingly dragging its feet on granting conservative Waukesha County vaccinator authorization.

“I just think DHS is overwhelmed with what they are trying to get accomplished,” the county executive said.

The bigger problem, Farrow said, is the administration’s failure to communicate. For instance, DHS originally told local health departments the administration would come up with a plan on how to deal with administering vaccines to doctors and dentists offices, then told local health officers to figure it out.

“They still don’t have a data system,” Farrow added. “This is a challenge.”

While Gov. Tony Evers has blamed the Trump administration for holding back doses, the state has struggled to move vaccine out. As of Thursday, the federal government had allocated more than 600,000 doses to Wisconsin, and shipped 373,000. Of that, about 195,000 doses had been administered in the state, according to DHS.  

Elderly Nuns not eligible

In Waukesha County, the elderly nuns at the School Sisters of Notre Dame retirement home will have to wait for COVID-19 vaccines, thanks to bureaucratic red tape.

On Tuesday, the Waukesha County Health Department said the facility would not be among the first to receive the vaccine because “the School Sisters of Notre Dame is not a licensed Skilled Nursing Facility with the Division of Quality Assurance at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.”

“Waukesha County Public Health understands your hope that there is a simple answer to your questions. The fact is that the vaccine distribution process is complex, involving many steps to ensure a safe and equitable distribution of the current limited supply of vaccine,” the statement, issued to WISN in Milwaukee, added.

Nine of the approximately 100 residents at the Elm Grove community home have died from COVID-19. The nuns who remain are in their 80s and 90s, in the highest-risk category.

Trudy Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the School Sisters of Notre Dame, said the retirement home continues to wait for word from state officials.

“That’s so frustrating,” Farrow said. “I grew up in Elm Grove and went to school at St. Mary’s with four brothers. We had those sisters taking care of us and teaching us.”

In his radio address Thursday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said the state still does not have a comprehensive vaccine distribution plan, and there doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency from the Evers administration.

Last month, the governor dismissed any talk of legislative oversight of the vaccine distribution effort.

“With lives literally on the line, this is unacceptable and must change,” Vos said. 

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