US Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Town of Vermont)
US Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Town of Vermont)

The representative also warns Wisconsin GOP effort to strike down mask requirement could “make talk cheap.”

Even as Wisconsin’s vaccine rollout flounders, US Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Town of Vermont) sees “good things on the horizon” now that President Joe Biden is in office.

Wisconsin’s vaccine rollout is currently among the slowest in the nation as a proportion of the population that has received a shot, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. State health officials place much of the blame on the federal rollout under former President Donald Trump; Wisconsin is currently receiving only about 70,000 shots per week. 

Pocan said in a Wednesday afternoon press conference that he has been heartened by Biden’s goal of ramping up national vaccine distribution to 1.5 million shots per day for his first 100 days in office. He also praised Biden’s plan to use the Defense Production Act to produce more specialized syringes that can draw additional doses from Pfizer’s vaccines. But until Biden’s administration creates a strong federal vaccine process, Pocan said, it is important for states like Wisconsin to borrow successful distribution methods from one another. 

“If we had a federal system, we’d be beyond all this,” Pocan said. “To leave it up to each state to create their own system is terribly inefficient.”

Pocan said he has been in contact with Karen Timberlake, interim secretary of the state Department of Health Services, to share best practices from across the country, and that she has been receptive. For instance, Wisconsin has no centralized system for people to find out where they can get their vaccine or when they are eligible. Other states have such programs, he said.

“We get a lot of calls from people right now who are 65 that would like to get a vaccine because they should be eligible, but we’re literally telling them to call CVS or Walgreens to find out if it’s available,” Pocan said. “That’s not a plan. We need to have something stronger and better.”

Pocan also criticized the efforts this week by Republicans in the state Legislature to strike down Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide mask requirement. Many GOP lawmakers claim they support mask-wearing but take issue with Evers’ use of successive 60-day emergency declarations to issue extensions of the requirement.

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) appeared alongside Pocan in a late-November public service announcement in which they implored people to wear masks, yet Vos is allowing his chamber to vote Thursday on a resolution to end the requirement. The resolution already passed the Republican-dominated Senate.

“We don’t want to make talk cheap, right?” Pocan said. “And in that video, which is gonna be out there forever, Robin said, ‘Always wear a mask.’… I would say walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk. If you really feel the issue is overreach by the governor, then at the same time you introduce this, you should introduce a measure to require masks, because that is the scientifically proven thing to do.”