State health officials and the Wisconsin National Guard are launching mobile COVID-19 vaccination teams next week to help expand access throughout Wisconsin.
The program, which begins Tuesday, will deploy nine mobile vaccination teams staffed by the National Guard as well as pharmacy and nursing student volunteers through a partnership with the University of Wisconsin System.
The teams will work with local health departments to provide vaccine to Wisconsinites in the next phase of the state’s rollout, which includes police officers and firefighters. But officials hope to expand the pilot program to help with mass vaccinations in the future.
“Our mobile teams will work to support these local and tribal health departments and their vaccination efforts, especially now as they are leading the coordination of getting vaccine in the arms of our first responders, along with our unaffiliated health care providers,” Gov. Tony Evers said Friday in a media briefing. “This program will start with nine teams, and we are looking forward to expanding from there.”
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The volunteers will be required to complete safety training and necessary instruction, officials said.
Local and tribal health departments will lead coordination efforts for vaccinating police and fire personnel, as well as EMS and unaffiliated health care providers in their jurisdictions, state officials said.
“This pandemic has amplified health inequities throughout the state — we have seen how differences in opportunity, resources, and access to quality health care have exacerbated this public health crisis,” Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said in a statement. “That is why this program is an especially critical tool in Wisconsin’s vaccination rollout. The Mobile Vaccination initiative will help close gaps in accessibility and ensure that every Wisconsinite will have the opportunity to get protected against COVID-19.”
The mobile teams will include 12 to 15 people per team, said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary with DHS. That includes people doing registration, administering vaccine, and those staying with people to make sure they don’t have an allergic reaction.
“We’re starting small to learn, and we will grow as we move forward,” she said.
She said she expects teams to be able to do about 70 to 140 vaccinations per day.
“We’ll test that out and we’ll see how it goes and we’ll grow from there,” she said.
For now, the mobile vaccination clinics are only open to people who are in Phase 1A or the first responders and healthcare personnel approved under Phase 1B of the rollout.
“Right now the mobile clinics are not open to the general public, because the general public is not eligible for a vaccine,” Van Dijk said. “We’re using this as an opportunity to test that model so that in the future when larger groups of population, and ultimately the whole public are available, they’ll be able to access any of the mobile clinics that will be provided in communities.”
The announcement comes as Evers and state health officials face criticism from Republicans over the state’s vaccine rollout. But there are also concerns that the federal government does not have a reserve of COVID-19 vaccines.
Maj. Gen. Paul Knapp, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, said in a statement, “Our Citizen Soldiers and Airmen in the Wisconsin National Guard have been an integral part of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’re honored to continue serving our fellow citizens in this way.”
The University of Wisconsin System said it would provide expand a $500 tuition credit for students who help during the pandemic to eligible students who volunteer to do vaccinations.
“UW nursing and pharmacy students can provide critical help to get Wisconsinites vaccinated,” UW System President Tommy Thompson said. “We are pleased to offer this tuition credit and appreciate the partnership with Gov. Tony Evers as we once again demonstrate the Wisconsin Idea at work – where there’s a problem facing Wisconsin, UW System is part of the solution.”