By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — State officials worked Monday to tamp down expectations that vaccines will offer a quick way out of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying most of the state’s nearly 6 million people will likely have to wait months for their first shots.
Federal officials appear on the cusp of authorizing a vaccine. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration committee is expected to meet to discuss emergency authorization for a vaccine developed by Pfizer on Thursday and for a vaccine developed by Moderna on Dec. 17.
With authorization imminent, all eyes now turn to the states as they prepare to distribute doses.
State Department of Health Services Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk told reporters during a briefing that Wisconsin is in line to receive an initial shipment of 49,725 Pfizer doses for health care workers and residents of long-term care homes. Those inoculations will likely begin this month, she said.
The state is also in line to receive another batch of 49,725 doses for those recipients’ second round of inoculations. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots given several weeks apart.
After health-care workers and long-term care residents are inoculated, the next groups in line will likely be those over age 65, essential workers and people suffering from underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19 infections. People outside those groups will have to wait longest. Some, such as pregnant women or people allergic to vaccines, may have to wait even longer as scientists study the drugs’ side effects, she said.
The bottom line: It will probably be early fall before everyone who wants a shot can get one, Van Djik warned. Until then, people will have to keep social distancing and wearing masks, she said.
“Distributing the COVID-19 vaccine is the most significant public health undertaking of our life times,” she said. “It will require both preparedness and adaptability and patience.”
Van Djik also outlined a two-pronged distribution plan.
Pfizer’s vaccine must be stored at sub-zero temperatures, giving rise to distribution difficulties. Once that vaccine is permitted, the state plans to stockpile doses at regional hubs with ultra-cold storage capability before handing them out to vaccinators.
But Van Djik was vague on details. When asked to identify the hubs, she said only that they include health-care systems and many are in rural parts of the state. Moderna’s vaccine doesn’t require sub-zero storage and the state plans to hand those doses out directly to vaccinators, she said.
“We’re asking for patience,” she said. “This will take time.”
The DHS reported 2,155 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases Monday, bringing the total number of cases in Wisconsin since the pandemic began in March to 414,332. The seven-day average of positive tests stood at 30.7%.
The disease was a factor in 19 more deaths, bringing the death toll to 3,738.
University of Wisconsin System officials announced Monday that they will continue to operate rapid-testing sites on or near campuses through at least Christmas. The system opened the sites in early November and had expected to operate them for only six weeks.