‘We’re on a plateau’: A drop-off in vaccinations prompts effort to inform, cajole more Wisconsinites

MADISON – The number of COVID-19 vaccine shots being administered in Wisconsin is dropping at a time when just one county has fully vaccinated more than half its population and the White House is warning states to use their doses or lose them.   

State health officials say Wisconsin has seen a “precipitous drop” in demand for vaccinations, mirroring trends across the country. The plateau is prompting new efforts to inform and persuade the 2.1 million people left in the state who are eligible but have not yet received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

“It’s really important to remember part of the reason demand has dropped off is we have vaccinated so many people,” Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said Tuesday. “If you climb a mountain, you climb and you go on a plateau. We’ve done a big ascent, and now we’re on a plateau.”

Track COVID and the vaccine in Wisconsin: See the latest data on cases, deaths and administered doses

Just five counties have seen more than half the population receive at least one dose of a vaccine, with Dane County leading at 60% followed by Door, Bayfield, Ozaukee and Iowa counties.

Door County is alone in having more than half its population fully vaccinated, according to recent state data. 

Since the state’s peak of 424,004 doses during the week of April 1, the number of shots administered has dropped by 47% to 224,649 last week — a level not seen since mid-February when the vaccine rollout was ramping up.

The Biden administration told states on Tuesday it is shifting its distribution model after many states are seeing less demand, leaving thousands of doses unused. 

Vaccine distribution will target states with higher demand under the new plan, governors were told. Willems Van Dijk said the state also will change its distribution model to be on-demand instead of sending allocations on a bi-weekly or weekly basis.   

She said state and local officials are now focusing on reaching out to Wisconsin residents who need more information or coaxing to make a decision about whether to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot. 

Slowdown reflects national trend

Wisconsin’s slowdown of people getting vaccine doses reflects a national trend. The rush for vaccination has ebbed across much of the nation, with some states turning down all or part of their weekly dose allotments. 

The United States is reporting first-dose vaccine shots at less than half the pace of just a few weeks ago, a USA TODAY analysis of Centers for Disease Control data shows. 

As of Tuesday, 43% of eligible Wisconsinites had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Nationwide, that percentage is 44%. Herd immunity has been estimated to require vaccinations of 70% or more of the population.

President Joe Biden wants 70% of U.S. adults to have at least one COVID-19 shot by July 4, a goal he also announced Tuesday. Today, about 56% of adults have received at least one shot. 

The pace of vaccinations required to reach 70% is much slower than the speed with which the nation got to its current levels.

More than a quarter of all Americans say they don’t want the vaccine, surveys indicate.

Republicans are more likely to be hesitant to get a COVID-19 vaccine, polls show. In Wisconsin, counties that shifted more Republican, or “red,” since 2012 are seeing lower vaccination rates than counties that shifted bluer during the same time period, a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analysis found.

U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher of Green Bay recently renewed a call for a statewide vaccine campaign that provides free beers with each vaccine shot. Gallagher is one of very few high-profile Wisconsin Republicans to call for residents to get vaccinated, and potentially the most prominent. 

“People in Wisconsin like drinking beer, from a public health perspective we need people to get vaccinated, and this accomplishes both of those things,” Gallagher told WTAQ on Tuesday

“You stimulate the local economy with the bars and restaurants that have been hit the (hardest) by the pandemic while also encouraging vaccinations and herd immunity,” he said. “We all want to be in Lambeau in September cheering the Packers on in person, in a crowded stadium, screaming our tails off. So we’ve got some work to do to get to that point.”

The Department of Health Services also recently launched a social media campaign, including running ads on Instagram to help users sign up for a vaccine appointment. 

Maureen Groppe, John Bacon and Elinor Aspegren of USA Today contributed to this report.

Contact Molly Beck at molly.beck@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MollyBeck.