Boxes containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Mississippi.
Boxes containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Mississippi. The federal government plans to distribute over the coming week a total of 7.9 million doses of vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer Inc. (Photo by Paul Sancya - Pool/Getty Images)

Moderna gained weekend approval to join Pfizer in the effort to vaccinate a state still in a welcome pause after November’s surge.

A week after Wisconsin hospitals and nursing homes began receiving one vaccine to protect against COVID-19, another intended for that same purpose is beginning to arrive at hospitals and clinics around the state. 

Gov. Tony Evers and the state Department of Health Services announced doses of the Moderna vaccine that protects against the coronavirus began arriving at Wisconsin medical facilities on Monday. The initial shipment of the vaccine is expected to total 16,000 doses, and state health officials said they expect to receive 100,000 doses of that vaccine in upcoming weeks, according to a news release. 

“Folks, this is exciting news. The COVID-19 vaccine is an important tool we need to battle this pandemic,” Evers said in the release. “While we do not have control over how much vaccine the federal government allocates to our state, I can promise that we are doing everything we can to ensure that our distribution is fair and equitable.”

Last week hospitals and nursing homes received nearly 50,000 doses of another COVID-19 prevention vaccine, one produced by Pfizer. Hospital staff who work with COVID-19 patients and residents and workers at nursing homes began receiving vaccinations. 

Another 50,000 doses of that vaccine were expected to be received this week, but on Friday Evers announced federal government officials informed him that figure would be short by about 15,000 doses. Other states also reported unanticipated shortages of the Pfizer vaccine, prompting concerns about vaccinating people against the virus in a timely manner. 

The US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) issued emergency use authorization for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Friday. Moderna and Pfizer are the first two COVID-19 vaccines to be authorized by the FDA.

The Moderna vaccine can be stored in normal freezers, meaning it can be shipped directly to vaccination sites. The Pfizer vaccine requires storage at minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit, making its distribution to hospitals and long-term care facilities across the state a more complicated process, health officials said. 

To get the Moderna vaccine to sites as quickly as possible, Gov. Evers and DHS activated the federal government’s long-term care pharmacy distribution program to provide on-site vaccination for Wisconsin’s long-term care residents and staff beginning Dec. 28. Of total Moderna doses sent to Wisconsin, 29,000 will be reserved for that purpose, the governor said. 

The vaccines are viewed as the best chance to get past the coronavirus pandemic that began in Wisconsin in March and surged to its highest, most deadly numbers in November. So far 4,425 people have died from the virus statewide, according to DHS statistics, and 458,612 positive cases have been reported.

Monday’s good news of a second vaccine making its way to the state comes as there were 1,826 virus cases reported Sunday and 1,435 Monday, the first time in three months Sunday and Monday figures were each below 2,000 new infections. 

The Monday positivity rate of 26.5% is the lowest since Oct. 23, and the seven-day average of new daily cases (2,817) has dropped for 11 consecutive days. Eight new COVID-19-related deaths were reported Monday, just the fourth time in two months when that number was in single digits.    

As the state vaccinates more of its healthcare workers and long-term care residents, DHS will work with the federal government to increase vaccine supply to vaccinate others, DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said. The vaccine could be available to the general public as soon as this spring, but in the meantime she urged people to continue to wear face masks, refrain from gathering with others, and to maintain social distancing.