The City of Milwaukee is launching a COVID-19 "vaccination hub" at the Wisconsin Center.
The City of Milwaukee is launching a COVID-19 "vaccination hub" at the Wisconsin Center. Mayor Tom Barrett said it will first be used for municipal employees but be expanded to the public "as soon as possible." (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

Mayor Barrett says it will open to the public “as soon as possible.” City workers in priority categories will go first.

About 30,000 square feet of the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee will serve as the “vaccination hub” for Wisconsin’s largest city until at least May.

Starting Tuesday morning, City of Milwaukee employees in vaccine group 1A—EMS, firefighters, and public health workers—will be able to get their first COVID-19 vaccine shots at the large convention center, which last year hosted both the scaled-down Democratic National Convention and Milwaukee County’s presidential election recount.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said the hub—paid for in part with federal coronavirus relief money—will at first only be available to city employees, but it will eventually open to the general public.

“It’s not going to happen today, tomorrow, or next week, but it’s my goal to have it happen as soon as possible,” Barrett said during a media walkthrough on Monday.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, left, and Dr. Nick Tomaro of the Milwaukee Health Department stand outside a COVID-19 vaccine station set up in the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee. The City of Milwaukee is renting about 30,000 square feet of the convention center to create a “vaccination hub.” (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

Dr. Nick Tomaro of the Milwaukee Health Department said that once the hub is operating at full capacity, it is expected to be able to give 1,000 vaccines per day. In part because of paltry vaccine supply from the federal government, Milwaukee is only set to receive 800 doses this week.

The city has the space through May 2, and it could possibly extend the contract until June 11, Tomaro said.

The hub is divided into four sections for different steps of the process, including registration, a health screening, getting the shot, and a waiting space in case of immediate adverse reactions. There are currently 18 vaccination stations, and that number will be doubled once the site is at full capacity.

The City of Milwaukee is launching a COVID-19 “vaccination hub” at the Wisconsin Center. Mayor Tom Barrett said it will first be used for municipal employees but be expanded to the public “as soon as possible.” (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

Wisconsin public health officials have been criticized for not immunizing more people more rapidly, but Barrett said the state Department of Health services has been good to work with. Wisconsin ranks 10th of 12 Midwest states in terms of getting a first dose of the vaccine to its residents, based on population, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures. 

Tomaro and Barrett said the vaccine doses stored in the Wisconsin Center will be closely watched and that only a select few individuals will have access to them. The tight security is in response to news of a pharmacist in Grafton, who was arrested earlier this month for allegedly intentionally spoiling more than 500 doses of vaccine.