Educators begin receiving doses as demand continues to outpace supply.
Wisconsin Department of Health Services officials lauded the addition of a new Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to the state’s efforts to protect against the virus but acknowledged demand for vaccinations continues to outpace available supply.
DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said combining the new vaccine with Pfizer and Moderna will speed up the state’s vaccination effort, in part because Johnson & Johnson requires just one shot and not two like the other two vaccines.
DHS is scheduled to receive about 47,000 Johnson & Johnson doses next week, and they will be used for educators, who were prioritized to begin receiving the vaccines on Monday. Additional doses of the vaccine will make their way to the state through federal programs.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, produced by Janssen, requires only refrigeration and not extra-cold storage like the others, making it easier to distribute to vaccinators. The US Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine Saturday for people age 18 and older.
The newly approved vaccine “gives a significant boost to our vaccination efforts,” Willems Van Dijk said Tuesday during a press briefing about COVID-19.
As of Tuesday, 505,123 people in the state have completed their vaccination series, which is nearly 9% of the state’s population. Nearly 1.5 million doses have been administered total.
The additional vaccines are important as Wisconsin educators begin receiving them even as other eligible groups, including those age 65 and older, are still being vaccinated. But state demand for vaccines still far outpaces the amount available from the federal government, Willems Van Dijk said, even with the additional Johnson & Johnson doses.
Additionally, she said, after the initial shipment of Johnson & Johnson vaccines, far fewer doses are expected to make their way to Wisconsin until the end of March as the federal government increases production.
“We’re still dealing with far more demand than we have supply,” Willems Van Dijk said of COVID-19 vaccines in Wisconsin.
In many parts of the state, educators began receiving vaccinations Monday, with many posting on Facebook to celebrate the occasion. Teachers were prioritized in getting vaccinated as schools resume face-to-face instruction.
However, in some locations teachers received few if any vaccinations because supply lags demand. Educators in grades K-12 and at universities may have to wait as long as six weeks to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
DHS officials are in the process of determining how much vaccine to give to each school district’s vaccine provider, and when to give it. Districts with higher populations of students of color and low-income families will be prioritized, Willems Van Dijk said.
Without that information, in many cases school district officials didn’t have vaccinations to offer teachers. In some locations, a lack of vaccine hindered efforts, school and public health officials told UpNorthNews. While teachers in some locations, such as Milwaukee, began receiving donations, others are waiting to begin that process.
Vaccination of educators is occurring this week in Pierce County, where 1,100 teachers have indicated they want the vaccine, county Health Officer AZ Snyder said. The county will use 100 of the 500 COVID-19 doses it received this week for teachers, and will vaccinate another 200 with Moderna it received this week because that shipment was delayed last week, Snyder said.
“We are still very much working on (vaccinating) our 65-plus” group, she said. Statewide, more than half of those age 65 and older have been vaccinated.
Educators at three schools in Chippewa County began receiving COVID-19 vaccinations this week, county Health Officer Angela Weideman said. Next week teachers in Cadott, Lake Holcombe and Cornell school districts are scheduled to be vaccinated, she said.
Vaccinations in the county’s largest district, Chippewa Falls, began this week and will continue during the next several weeks “as they have a large staff and we need more supply to complete that district, Weideman said. Vaccine supply to her county continues to be “up and down,” she said.
In Barron County, teachers are receiving the vaccine through a variety of providers. Additional educators will be vaccinated during a county operated clinic Friday, county health officer Laura Sauve said.
Like other counties across the state, Barron County has more capacity to give vaccinations than it has supply, she said. “Most of my providers say they can handle a lot more (vaccine),” Sauve said.
Whenever one of the three COVID-19 vaccines becomes available to educators and others, Willems Van Dijk urges people to accept whichever is offered. Some people have balked at receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because it has tested about 70% effective against the virus compared to Pfizer and Moderna being more than 90% effective.
“These are quality vaccines,” she said. “They are all very effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalizations, and death.”