Even with Wisconsin dramatically picking up the pace of vaccinations — and leading the nation in the average number of COVID-19 vaccine shots administered daily — frustration is building as people face canceled appointments, or being told appointments are simply not available.
Vaccine appointments have been rescheduled or canceled this week in Madison and La Crosse, and other providers have slowed or simply stopped scheduling them, as the shortage of vaccine continues to leave people scrambling.
“Due to shortfalls in this week’s supply, we need to cancel over 2,400 appointments,” read an email from UW Health. “The supply of vaccine we have received from the state so far is just a small fraction of what we need to reach the patients we care for in our community.”
The email, which was sent to someone whose appointment was rescheduled and shared with the Journal Sentinel, read, “We know how frustrating and disappointing this news is. Like you, we are eager to get everyone vaccinated.”
For many whose appointments were rescheduled, disappointment is an understatement.
Terese Berceau, a former longtime Democratic state representative from Madison, said she had been counting down the days until her vaccine appointment at UW Health.
“I had heard on the news already that supply was down. I thought, ‘OK, I’m safe because I’ve been on the list, I’ve been scheduled for weeks,” said Berceau, who is 70. “But no, a whole bunch of us got the notice today.”
Track COVID and the vaccine in Wisconsin:See the latest data on cases and the allocation
Jami Cook of Madison said it took weeks to get her 77-year-old mother an appointment, which was scheduled for Friday. But on Tuesday, UW Health officials called to say the appointment would have to be delayed – by nearly a month.
“I already thought Friday was late. My mother has other health issues that need to be taken care of but can’t until she gets her COVID vaccine,” Cook, 51, said. “This is very upsetting.”
‘It is what it is’
In Green Bay, neither Bellin Health nor Prevea Health have had to cancel vaccine appointments due to short supply, spokeswomen for both health systems said. But it’s still affecting their processes.
Bellin received more doses this week than it had the week prior, a spokeswoman said in an email, but the system is not able to schedule appointments out as far as it would like because of supply shortages.
Prevea has stopped scheduling new vaccine appointments because of limited supply, its spokeswoman said.
Doris Witmer, 88, of La Crosse, got a message on Monday that her vaccine appointment, scheduled for Thursday evening with Gundersen Health System, had been canceled.
Gundersen received just 20% of the doses it had asked for from the state this week, the La Crosse Tribune reported, forcing it to cancel about 1,650 first-dose appointments.
The doses it did receive will go to people who are up for their second dose of the series, and those whose appointments got canceled will get a MyChart message when they can reschedule.
Witmer was looking forward to the appointment, she said, even deciding what she would wear to most easily offer her arm for the shot. But although her family was disappointed that she wouldn’t be immunized this week, she said she understood that it was out of the clinic’s control.
“It is what it is,” Witmer said. “I’ll just wait my turn.”
‘It really is a supply-demand mismatch’
UW Health received more doses of the vaccine on Tuesday than it received last week or the week before that, said Matt Anderson, a physician and senior medical director of primary for UW Health in Madison.
But the shipment was less than it expected, and the health system had to reschedule appointments.
UW Health – which has 52,000 patients over the age of 65 – schedules appointments based on the estimated doses it expects to receive in the coming week.
It received 2,340 doses of the vaccine to give patients their first shot and 2,340 doses for the second shot. The doses for the second shot are kept in reserve.
“It really is a supply-demand mismatch right now,” Anderson said.
He did not know why the shipments to the state and to vaccinators vary from week to week.
“It is really a bit of a black box,” Anderson said.
Froedtert Health would not disclose whether it received fewer vaccines this week, but it temporarily reduced the number of vaccine clinics to three, down from 10.
Aurora Health Care, part of Advocate Aurora Health, would not comment whether it received fewer vaccines this week.
Mo Kharbat, vice president of pharmacy services for the Wisconsin region for SSM Health, said that it generally receives about a third of the vaccines that it requests. The number of vaccines, though, varies.
“You don’t have that long visibility,” Kharbat said last week.
Having to schedule for second doses adds to the complexity.
“It is now going to enter a phase where it becomes a bit complicated with vaccinating larger numbers of people, especially in coordinating first and second doses,” Kharbat said. “This would be have been an easy process if it were one dose.”
“With two doses, you have to be always looking at the vaccine you have on hand,” he added, “making sure you have enough set aside for second doses and then scheduling first doses for the other ones.”
A number of vaccinators have said they don’t schedule vaccine appointments until practically the last minute due to supply shortages.
‘Every week we learn, and we get better’
Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the state Department of Health Services, said officials have been making changes each week in an effort to get more shots into arms.
“Every week we learn, and we get better,” she said Tuesday during a media call.
“Our vaccine allocation is determined by a weekly survey where all of our vaccinators — not just local health departments but health systems and pharmacies and long-term care and others who are signed up as vaccinators — request a certain amount of vaccine,” she said.
She added that vaccine allocations are based on those requests, as well as factors such as making sure there is distribution of vaccine around the state.
“Beginning several weeks ago, we also added a population factor into our formula. So now we are allotting vaccine proportionate to the population within a community,” she said. “It’s a blend of how many vaccines the vaccinators can give, and also working to provide an equitable distribution of vaccine, based on geography across the state.”
Vaccinators have recently requested thousands more doses than the state receives each week, Willems Van Dijk said.
“In the early days, the first five to six weeks of vaccine allocation, we had sufficient supplies of vaccine that anyone who asked for vaccine, we were able to fill their full supply,” Willems Van Dijk said.
That is no longer the case.
“We had 505 vaccinators ask for nearly 290,000 vaccines,” she said. “And so we had to make a lot of tough decisions.”
For example, anyone whose allocation would have been less than 50 did not receive vaccine, which affected a number of local pharmacies, she said.
Willems Van Dijk said the state continues to need more vaccine than it has received, but needs to deal with the supply it currently has. As a result, she acknowledged that some are getting dramatically fewer doses than requested.
“We have a very high number of vaccinators in Dane County, which means that not all of them are going to get vaccine, because we need to save that vaccine and send it to other parts of the state,” she said.
Molly Beck of the Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.