Mary Jordan, 70, of Milwaukee, gets a dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine Feb. 4 from Jordan Bretzmann, a nurse at Progressive Community Health Centers. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)
Mary Jordan, 70, of Milwaukee, gets a dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine Feb. 4 from Jordan Bretzmann, a nurse at Progressive Community Health Centers. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

News comes as Evers announces state’s first community-based vaccine clinic in Rock County and politics over mask order continues in Legislature.

After a slow start on the vaccine rollout, Wisconsin is now leading the pack in the number of vaccines daily making it into the arms of its residents. 

By Sunday, Wisconsin had the second-highest rate of vaccinations per capita of all 50 states and the 18th highest vaccination rate overall, according to data compiled by researchers at Oxford. 

More specifically,  Wisconsin’s seven-day average for vaccine doses given is now 6,170 shots per million residents per day, the most in the nation,  according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compiled by Our World in Data. 

The state Department of Health Services (DHS) reported Sunday that the number of people in Wisconsin who have received their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine has reached 164,026, or 2.8% of the total state population. The total number of doses administered statewide was 761,212.

Ajay Sethi, associate professor of population health sciences at UW-Madison, spoke with WISN-TV’s UpFront about the news that Wisconsin has climbed up the ranks. 

“Since that initial period, Wisconsin has actually had a good couple of weeks, and I would say we’re sort of in the middle of the pack as far as the US goes,” Sethi said. 

Assembly Republicans have used the initially sluggish rollout as ammunition against Gov. Tony Evers’ administration. Two Assembly bills were put forward to micromanage the rollout but they did not take into account the lack of vaccine coming into the state. 

The only COVID-19 legislation sent to Evers during the Legislature’s first five weeks has been a bill that would have severely restricted local coronavirus safeguard. Evers vetoed it Friday almost immediately after he received it.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that one reason for the initial vaccine delay is because Walgreens and CVS, which were contracted to vaccinate residents at nursing homes and assisted living centers through a federal program, still has 95,000 doses of Wisconsin’s allotment waiting to be administered. DHS reached out to smaller pharmacies across the state to fill the gap so long-term care residents could be vaccinated faster. 

As long as President Joe Biden’s administration is able to match the federal supply with the Wisconsin demand, the pace could continue to pick up. Evers announced on Monday that the first community-based vaccine clinic is set to roll out in Rock County on Feb. 16. Initially officials estimate the clinic will be able to vaccinate 250 people daily, and when the state’s allocation increases it could go up to 1,000 per day. 

Sethi also spoke on the importance of a mask order to fight the spread of COVID-19. Despite dozens of health organizations advocating to keep Evers’ mask order in place, Wisconsin Republicans repealed the order last week, only for Evers to install a new order in its place. 

“If everybody wore a mask outside their household when they’re at risk of running into people they don’t live with, if everybody can do that we can make a serious dent in the spread of this coronavirus,” Sethi said. “A mandate has to be part of that toolbox.”

Wisconsin Democrats announced legislation on Thursday that would implement a mask order until the national health emergency is ended. 

The improved vaccination numbers are coming as reports of new coronavirus infections continue a four-week fall. From Friday through Sunday, DHS reported 2,871 new coronavirus infections, including only 671 on Sunday. Excluding the day after Christmas (632), Sunday’s figure is the lowest daily number of new COVID-19 cases since Sept. 7, 2020.

The rolling seven-day average of daily new cases (1,059) has not risen for four weeks.

From Friday through Sunday, DHS reported 62 deaths from COVID-19, raising the state’s pandemic death toll to 6,054.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association dashboard shows the number of COVID-19 in-patients statewide has decreased to 570. The number of hospital patients peaked at 2,277 on Nov. 17, 2020, and the patient population is nearly half of what it was at the start of the new year (1,010 on Jan. 1).

Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson—also interviewed on UpFront—made a baseless claim the financial strife from the pandemic could have been prevented had the US followed the “Swedish model” in responding to COVID-19. 

But the hands-off approach led to Sweden accruing a much higher death toll than its neighbors and did not save the country’s economy either. Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf said in December that the approach had “failed.”