The Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced today that it has begun working with UW Health to prepare the distribution of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, giving more detail on one of the fastest vaccine rollouts in history.
But health officials stress that large-scale distribution is likely still months away.
Stephanie Schauer, director of the Division of Public Health Immunization Program at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, says the CDC will be allocating two phases of the Pfizer vaccine to Wisconsin. That’s vaccinations for about 50,000 people.
“That is something that the federal government is doing with all allocations,” Schauer says.
DHS department deputy secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk says the State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee is making recommendations for who will receive the first wave of vaccinations. That will include those on the frontlines of the pandemic: healthcare workers.
However, Van Dijk says this will have to be balanced with pragmatic issues created by the cold storage requirements of the Pfizer vaccine.
“So there may be times where we are doing a group of healthcare workers because they are there and readily available, and the vaccine is thawed and we need to give it to a thousand people at a time,” Van Dijk says.
The Pfizer vaccine requires special storage at below -94 degrees Fahrenheit, something only possible at a selection of locations. The DHS says it plans to take a hub-and-spoke model for distribution, storing the vaccine at central locations – or hubs – throughout the state that can then be shipped out to facilities – or spokes.
UW Health announced today that it has been designated as the storage hub for the Pfizer vaccine. According to Emily Kumlien, media specialist for UW Health, UW Health University Hospital in Madison will be one of the storage locations.
Both Schauer and Van Dijk declined to give a definitive timetable for the vaccine’s distribution, saying that the FDA has yet to approve the vaccine. Van Dijk says state-wide distribution will likely take until mid-to-late 2021.
“I know everybody’s excited, and we’d love to take our masks off by Valentines day,” Van Dijk says, “but that’s just not going to happen.”
Dr. David O’Connor, a UW-Madison professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, told WORT’s Carousel Bayrd last Tuesday that there are still uncertainties surrounding the virus and vaccine, including the long term effectiveness of the immunization.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if the 95 percent effectiveness numbers that you’ve seen in the news are going to fall to something like 80 percent after six months,” O’Connor said, “but they’re still really good numbers.”
The Moderna vaccine, also drawing close to approval, does not require special cold storage, and will be distributed directly to vaccination sites.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will require two doses, three and four weeks apart respectively.