By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Four members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation want to know why Wisconsin ranks last nationally in fully vaccinating seniors in assisted living homes — among the state’s most vulnerable population.
In a letter to Evers, U.S. Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Allouez), Glenn Grothman (R-Glenbeulah), Bryan Steil (R-Janesville) and Tom Tiffany (R-Minocqua) write that they are deeply concerned that many seniors in assisted living homes are still waiting for a final dose of COVID-19 vaccination more than three months after the first vaccine received emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
As Wisconsin Spotlight reported in December, the Evers administration was slow to roll out vaccines to the state’s nursing homes, while it delayed vaccinations at assisted living facilities. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week reported that Wisconsin was one of the last states to start giving shots to assisted living residents, “and by that time, the state was already moving on to lower priority groups.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that by Oct. 15, 21 percent of assisted living facility residents with COVID-19 died, compared with 3 percent who died among the general population with COVID-19.
“Especially concerning are reports that Wisconsin possessed enough vaccine doses to begin vaccinating assisted living facilities prior to late January,” the lawmakers wrote. “We are equally concerned with the conflicting explanations state health officials have given for this delay.”
While the congressmen say they understand public health officials are operating with “imperfect information” and that the state needed to reserve doses for health care workers and frontline responders, “other states have faced these same challenges and have largely already fully vaccinated their assisted living populations.”
“We are concerned that the state’s approach in January may have unnecessarily slowed this vaccination process,” the letter states.
The lawmakers want Evers to answer several questions:
1) What factors contributed to conflicting interpretations of guidance from the requirements of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program?
2) What prevented the state from allocating vaccines in such a way to activate the assisted living arm of the federal program while continuing to vaccinate nursing home residents and health care workers?
3) What lessons can Wisconsin implement from other states to ensure assisted living populations quickly receive their complete vaccine series?
“As more and more Wisconsinites receive this life-saving vaccine, we ask that our assisted living populations not be left behind,” the lawmakers wrote.
Read the letter here.