A medical worker holds a vial of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine used to vaccinate health care workers at Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center in Janesville.


Storing and distribution requirements for COVID-19 vaccines have prompted Mercyhealth to reach out to its community partners, including police officers, to give them the vaccines before they expire, an official said Wednesday.

That led to 56 sworn Janesville police officers receiving their first vaccine doses Monday night, said Deputy Chief Terry Sheridan.

Recommendations for vaccine distribution have prioritized health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities, with emergency personnel—including police—being next in line.

Mercyhealth had intended to vaccinate only health care workers with its first shipment of vaccines, but storage and expiration requirements pushed some other Rock County officials ahead in line, Don Janczak, Mercyhealth’s director of pharmacy, said in an email to The Gazette.

“The vaccine is very delicate and has nontraditional storage and expiration requirements,” Janczak said. “This forces us to ‘use it or lose it’ within a short time frame. We are also adhering to the goal of zero waste.”

Mercyhealth is not alone. Many states are improvising new delivery systems and rewriting vaccination priorities as they and health institutions struggle with the logistics of keeping the shots cold and organizing groups of people to receive them.

The vaccine created by Pfizer requires extremely cold storage and must be used quickly once thawed. That is the only kind of vaccine Mercyhealth has received so far.

“Our initial goal was to not include first responders. At the end of the day, when we had the vaccine prepared, it was appropriate to reach out to first responders,” Janczak said.

Janesville Deputy Fire Chief Jim Ponkauskas said last week that the fire department had assembled a list of people who wanted the vaccine and contact information for those people, making it easy to get them vaccinated when Mercyhealth called and said vaccines were available.

Sheridan said the police department got a call about available vaccine doses Monday, but those in the department who wanted them needed to get to the hospital on a first-come, first-served basis.

He said police officials knew that calls such as the one Monday would come and require a quick response. He said about 40 more employees have said they want to get the vaccine, but he did not know when that would happen for them.

Sheridan got the vaccine, as well. He said the process was “pretty seamless” and that he didn’t have any problems.

Those who got their vaccinations will have to get the second dose in a few weeks, he said.

“We’re all looking forward to hopefully getting back to normal again,” Sheridan said. “This seems like this is the beginning, hopefully, the beginning of the end of it (the pandemic).”

Some emergency medical services workers were vaccinated last week.

Health care workers work closely with first responders, who provide direct care to the community, Janczak said.

When asked if Mercyhealth vaccinated all of its health care workers before vaccinating police officers, Janczak said:

“We have a phased approach beginning with frontline workers who care for COVID-19 patients. Because we need to use the vaccine within a certain period of time, we opened vaccination up to all of our employees/partners and first responders at the end of our final day of the first round of vaccinations.”

The Gazette sent questions to Mercyhealth asking specifically about police officer vaccinations, but the responses given focused on all first responders, including EMS workers, and did not specifically address the police, who typically do not provide medical care.

Mercyhealth uses these Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for vaccine eligibility in Phase 1A: “individuals who provide direct patient service (compensated and uncompensated) or engage in health care services that place them into contact with patients who are able to transmit SARS-CoV-2, and/or infectious material containing SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

Mercyhealth has received one shipment of Pfizer vaccine so far. State plans show Mercyhealth should receive the vaccine on a weekly basis, Janczak said.

He said Mercyhealth has administered 1,414 doses of vaccine in Rock County.

Plans for vaccine distribution moving forward are somewhat fuzzy nationwide, and the state has not publicly disclosed specifics about where and when people from other priority groups will be vaccinated.

Janczak said Mercyhealth will follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding when to vaccinate other priority groups.

“Our first priority is to focus on frontline health care employees/partners,” Janczak said. “The Rock County Health Department, Mercyhealth and the other county health systems are working together on a plan for distribution to the general public.”