Portage County News: Vaccine distribution, what’s going on?
By Chris Holman
Portage County Executive
As soon as both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were given emergency use authorization by the FDA, the questions have started to roll in. That makes all the sense in the world, of course, but you’re not alone if you’re not quite sure how vaccine distribution works.
The vaccine allocation process is a 7-10 day cycle, so essentially it’s a weekly allocation that the states receive from the federal government. Local jurisdictions like Portage County as well as the other 1,100 vaccinators across the state then receive vaccine doses from the state through a “hub and spoke” system that is in place due to some of the logistical constraints for both vaccines. Namely, they have to be kept cold, and in the case of Pfizer really cold (-94F).
Ok. So that’s how they get here. How is it determined who receives a vaccine and when? The process starts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). The recommendations and guidelines they issue to states—which states need to follow—are then taken up at the state level by their ACIP equivalent. Here in Wisconsin, that’s the State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee’s (SDMAC) Vaccine Subcommittee. They take what ACIP provides and, in turn, provide their recommendations to the Department of Health Services (DHS) for how everything should work in Wisconsin. DHS then finalizes the plan (i.e. for Tier 1A, Tier 1B, etc.) and local vaccinators follow the directives from DHS.
While this may seem like burdensome bureaucracy to some it’s incredibly important work because with COVID-19 we need everyone—locals, states, and feds—on the same page and working in the same direction. This is especially true in the early stages since we do not have enough vaccines to administer to people beyond the tiers you’re hearing about online and in the news.
Since late last month, Wisconsin has been administering vaccines to Tier 1A, which is health care personnel and people in long-term care facilities. At this point, Wisconsin is receiving roughly 467,000 vaccine doses per month, which is one-third of what we really need. There are roughly 485,000 Wisconsin residents working in health care alone, and we are looking to start Tier 1B soon. There are approximately 700,000 Wisconsin residents in that tier. Keep in mind, that the vaccines being administered now require two doses for maximum efficacy. So just between these two tiers, we need 2,370,000 doses of vaccine. If the federal government’s current pace of vaccine delivery stays the same, that’s the next five months of shipments to the state.
This is why you’re hearing the governor and others saying that Wisconsin needs more vaccines from the federal government and also why they and everyday citizens are voicing their frustration at the roll-out thus far. At the local level, for instance, vaccinators are finalizing their plans for a much larger roll-out, but none of those plans will work well if the vaccines are not available. This is also why the governor is asking for the ability to engage vaccine manufacturers directly and not wait on the federal government.
To be fair, this wasn’t going to be easy from the start. We’re also really ahead of the curve if you think about how amazing the vaccine development process has gone here and across the world. That being said, we know where the hold ups are at and that is half the battle. I’m sure that progress will be made in the coming months and we’ll get vaccines to those who want them. Until then, keep track of the committees I referenced, stay tuned for more news, and try to be patient as we all continue to work very hard at bringing this exceptionally challenging period in our history to an end.