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Emergency department physician Giuseppe Altamore, left, receives a Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine from a registered nurse inside Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center in Janesville.

JANESVILLE

Who will get the COVID-19 vaccine, and when will they get it?

Answers to those questions are coming, Rock County Administrator Josh Smith said Thursday, but they’re not here yet.

The state is still in Phase 1A, meaning mostly health care workers and residential care facilities, but state officials have said parts of the Phase 1B group—police and firefighters—will get vaccinated starting Monday.

Meanwhile, the Janesville School District announced Thursday it would take a day off from schooling Friday, Jan. 22, to vaccinate its 1,300 employees, who are expected to be a part of Phase 1B.

The county Public Health Department had not announced any transition to Phase 1B, but the school district news release said the health department had authorized the vaccinations.

State guidelines for Phase 1B have not yet been finalized. Public comment is still being taken on a draft of state recommendations for 1B that include:

  • People over the age of 70.
  • Essential workers, including first responders, educators, child care workers and non-frontline health care workers.
  • Mink farmers. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported mink farm workers are on the list because of evidence minks are particularly susceptible to animal-to-human and human-to-animal coronavirus transmission.
  • “Congregate living” residents and staff.

Congregate living facilities could include employer-based housing, housing for people with disabilities, shelters, transitional housing and jails.

Information remains hazy, but here is what The Gazette has learned about local COVID-19 vaccinations.

  • As of Thursday, about 3.2% of Rock County residents had received at least the first dose of the two-dose vaccine, according to health department data.
  • The county has formed a vaccine advisory group, consisting of 30 representatives from a variety of local organizations and governments.
  • The advisory group began meeting earlier this month. Smith said the group might expand or contract, depending on planning needs.
  • Alison Chouinard, health educator with the health department with experience in emergency preparedness, has been designated to oversee the advisory group, Smith said.
  • The group was formed to advise the county’s COVID-19 emergency operations center, which was reactivated recently to deal with vaccinations, Smith said. One of the group’s tasks is to coordinate public vaccination efforts.

Asked why planning didn’t start sooner, Smith said, “We just weren’t quite sure what to expect. We were waiting for guidance from the state on how they would distribute the vaccine. ... I still think we are in good shape for planning.”

  • Blackhawk Technical College announced Wednesday that it would be a public vaccination site. Smith said he didn’t know if the county would have more public sites.

“It’s possible, but it’s just too early to say if there will be others and where they might be,” Smith said.

“It’s a massive undertaking,” Smith said of the vaccination effort in the months ahead. “I know we have a good group at the emergency operations center and a lot of committed community partners. No one wants to be overconfident on how we’ll handle the next steps, and yet I feel we have a good group to handle the planning.”

The county health department has a COVID-19 vaccine dashboard, which tracks how many vaccine doses have been given across several demographics.

The dashboard Thursday said 5,194 first doses of the two-dose vaccine have been injected into people’s arms.

  • Several local organizations have registered to distribute COVID-19 vaccines, but so far hospitals and nationally franchised pharmacies have been the main local providers.

Smith did not know how many of the Phase 1A group had been vaccinated in the county, but every time vaccinations are announced, it has been noted that not everyone eligible has agreed to be vaccinated.

Smith said he had heard no concerns expressed about numbers of people declining the shot.

The county vaccine advisory group was created under the county’s emergency operations center and is therefore not considered a public body as defined under open meetings laws, Smith said.

This means, unlike groups created under the county’s board of supervisors, the vaccine advisory group will meet without public notice and likely without public participation.

Phases

The state is still considered to be in Phase 1A of COVID-19 vaccination, encompassing health care workers and residents and staffs of long-term care facilities.

Transitions between distribution phases appears to be fluid, with people designated in different priority groups getting vaccinated sooner based on geography and vaccine supply.

For example, Rock County first responders—both medical and nonmedical workers—began getting vaccinated weeks before the state announced the transition into allowing first responders to get vaccinated.

Officials at Mercyhealth said they started offering vaccines to police and other first responders sooner because they had doses available and local law enforcement agencies had plans in place and people ready to get vaccinated quickly.

After Phase 1B, the next priority vaccination group is Phase 1C, which is expected to include people 65 and older, adults of all ages who have high-risk medical conditions and essential workers not included in Phase 1B, according to the state Department of Health Services.

The definition of Phase 1C essential workers has yet to be set.

People who qualify in specific priority groups will be able to get vaccinated after the state moves on to include another phase. For example, a Phase 1A health care worker still could be vaccinated once the state opens up vaccines for people in Phase 1C.

The state’s State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee vaccine subcommittee is charged with more clearly defining each priority group. Broader advice is given to the states from the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

Officials have said it will be months before the general public—people who do not fall into a priority group—will be able to get vaccinated. That’s likely to be in or around June, Deputy Health Secretary at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Julie Willems Van Dyke, told reporters Monday.

In one concrete step, the county board Thursday authorized the health department to accept $602,390 in funding for COVID-19-related expenses from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, including contact tracing and related activities.

Smith said some of that money could be used for vaccination efforts, which might include such things as data entry, support staff and public education.

Smith said the public will need to be patient and continue with masks, hand washing and distancing for the foreseeable future.

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