Chestina Schubert raises her hand as she becomes the first person at University Hospital to be vaccinated on Dec. 17. Herd immunity, or vaccinating 70% of state residents, will not be likely by fall unless the federal government increasing vaccine allocation to Wisconsin. (Photo provided by UW Health)
Chestina Schubert raises her hand as she becomes the first person at University Hospital to be vaccinated on Dec. 17. Herd immunity, or vaccinating 70% of state residents, will not be likely by fall unless the federal government increasing vaccine allocation to Wisconsin. (Photo provided by UW Health)

DHS says the federal government needs to double or triple the amount of weekly doses it’s currently shipping or 70% of residents will not be vaccinated by the fall.

It will be almost impossible for Wisconsin to achieve herd immunity to COVID-19 via mass vaccinations this year unless the federal government greatly increases the number of doses it is giving the state, according to Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary-designee Julie Willems Van Dijk.

Wisconsin is currently receiving about 70,000 doses per week from the federal government, Willems Van Dijk said in a Thursday afternoon call with reporters. She estimated that number will need to be doubled or tripled to achieve herd immunity—or 70% immunization among the state’s population—by the end of the year.

“You see what the problem is here,” Willems Van Dijk said. “We don’t have enough supply to open the gates much wider and be able to meet the need.”

Willems Van Dijk said vaccine distribution has quickly ramped up this week, but the current rate is still not enough.

“We’re gonna have to increase the pace of this,” Willems Van Dijk said.

Similar concerns were expressed last month, when Gov. Tony Evers called it “unacceptable” that Wisconsin was slated to receive 15,000 fewer doses than first expected.

DHS said Thursday that 105,000 Wisconsinites have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, but federal data shows the state continues to have one of the slowest vaccine rollouts in the Midwest.

Among the 12 Midwestern states, Wisconsin had the third-lowest rate of vaccination as of Wednesday morning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But Wisconsin has also received the third-fewest doses as a proportion of population, according to the CDC. The state currently has a vaccination rate of 1.257%, and it has received about 267,000 doses, or about 4,600 per 100,000 residents.

Those numbers do not appear to factor in any vaccinations DHS has reported as performed Monday through Wednesday. About 25,600 people were vaccinated in those three days as the vaccine rollout began to accelerate, Willems Van Dijk said. Five thousand of those were second doses, meaning a total of 110,000 doses have been administered while 105,000 people have been at least partially vaccinated.

The state has 51,000 unused doses remaining from last week’s supply, and another 105,000 it received over the last few days. The week-old doses will go out to vaccine providers first.

Vaccine group 1a, which includes frontline healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents, is on track to be fully vaccinated by the end of January, according to Willems Van Dijk. Vaccination for group 1b, which is anticipated to include people 75 or older and frontline workers in non-healthcare fields, is expected to begin within a few weeks.

Wisconsin reached 498,538 confirmed COVID-19 cases on Thursday, and will almost certainly surpass 500,000 on Friday. The state reported 40 additional deaths on Thursday, bringing the pandemic’s death toll to 5,079.