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Assembly Republicans want public to have vaccine by March

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Everyone would be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine by mid-March regardless of how much vaccine is available, under a bill heard by the Assembly Health Committee on Wednesday.

The state is taking a “lackadaisical” approach to vaccinating people, bill sponsor and committee chairman Rep. Joe Sanfelippo said at a hearing on the measure Wednesday. The bill would speed the vaccine rollout and another proposal would expand those who can deliver the shots.

“We want to safely administer as many vaccines to as many people as quickly as possible,” Sanfelippo said.

Gov. Tony Evers and the state’s health leaders have defended the vaccine rollout, saying how quickly people can be vaccinated is limited by the number of doses being sent by the federal government. Wisconsin currently receives about 70,000 doses of vaccine a week but Evers has repeatedly called on the federal government to release more to the state.

The Wisconsin Public Health Association and the Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments and Boards issued identical written comments raising concerns about the supply of vaccine coming to the state.

“We appreciate the bill’s intent to make sure the vaccine is utilized as quickly as possible,” the groups said. “However, we believe the source of the issue is a lack of vaccine supply. Once supply is sufficient, the challenge will be enough workforce to administer.”

No one from the Evers administration testified on the bill. Evers has estimated that the state won’t be able to start vaccinating the general public until June.

As of Tuesday, 248,185 doses of the vaccines had been administered in Wisconsin and 40,545 people had completed the two-shot regimen.

Evers and leaders at the state Department of Health Services have said it would be chaotic and frustrating to open up vaccines to the general public now given that the supply of vaccine isn’t near enough to meet demand. Instead, they have largely followed federal recommendations on who should be prioritized.

Starting Monday, everyone over age 65 will be eligible, the first broadening to members of the general public. State health officials estimate that immunizing all 700,000 people in that group will take two months, based on current vaccine supply.

The state health department is also to decide this week who will be in the next wave of immunizations that could include teachers, grocery store and transit workers workers, and prisoners.

The bill heard Wednesday would require immediately prioritizing the vaccination of everyone over age 60. The general public would be eligible no later than March 15. The bill further calls for the state to create a centralized, publicly available platform for people to see if they are eligible to be vaccinated and to schedule appointments.

The bill is unlikely to become law. It has to pass the Senate and Assembly, and be signed by Evers, before taking effect.

Another Sanfelippo proposal heard Wednesday, supported by pharmacies, the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin and the Medical College of Wisconsin, would allow pharmacy students and pharmacy technicians to administer the vaccine.

Several other GOP-authored proposals have been introduced in the Senate that would likely face an Evers veto. Those measures would prohibit employers and the government from mandating vaccinations; prevent health officials from closing churches; require schools to be open in person unless a two-thirds majority of the school board votes every two weeks to remain virtual; and forbid giving prison inmates priority for vaccinations.

The flood of coronavirus bills from Republicans is yet another sign of the schism between the Legislature and Evers as they try to find common ground on the pandemic. The Senate passed a limited coronavirus relief bill last week that Evers said he would sign, but the Assembly does not plan to take it up.

Also on Wednesday, the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty filed a lawsuit in circuit court challenging capacity limits on indoor gatherings in Dane County after the state Supreme Court refused to hear the case before it first went through lower courts. The lawsuit argues that the order from the county health department was a legal overreach.

To date, there are have been 5,562 deaths due to COVID-19 and nearly 526,000 positive cases, according to the state Department of Health Services. The seven-day average of new cases was 1,807, the lowest it’s been in four months.

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