HUDSON -- After nearly a full year of COVID-19, the St. Croix County Public Health department is in the process of vaccinating citizens.
The vaccinations have brought a renewed energy to the department, said Public Health Officer Kelli Engen.
“We have been very excited about the opportunity to do what we know how to do best,” Engen said. ”We know how to mass vaccinate people.”
As of Feb. 11, the county gave more than 12,000 vaccines.
Here’s what you need to know about the county effort:
Supply is not meeting demand
St. Croix County’s allocations of vaccine doses are distributed by the state, which receives its allocations from the federal government.
In its five weeks as a vaccine provider, the county has received its requested doses twice. Last week, it requested 400 doses and received 50. The previous week it requested 500 and received zero.
The county is prepared to give out a thousand doses a week, Engen said, if it was able to receive that many. It has volunteers, including working and retired RN and LPNs, ready to come in and provide vaccines.
“We’re ready,” she said.
The county is not alone in its struggle. Local health care providers and other counties are having similar issues. Last week was the worst week, Engen said, with likely fewer than 1,000 vaccines received across St. Croix, Pierce and Polk counties.
Across the state providers are requesting about 500,000 doses a week with more providers being approved regularly, but the state is only receiving about 70,000 a week, Engen said.
“Supply is not meeting demand, and it’s a huge issue,” she said.
The county is working in close partnership with the state, but it does not know the finite details of how allocations are being made. Local health departments still have questions about how allocations are being dispersed, Engen said.
The county has been able to use the extra doses of the Pfizer vaccine. That vaccine comes in five dose vials, but the right needle can get six or seven doses, a process that has been okayed by the FDA.
This will take time
Vaccination is going to be a slow process, Engen said. Managing people’s expectations is going to be one of the hardest parts.
“I want to make sure anybody in St. Croix County who wants one gets on, unfortunately, it is going to take a while,” she said.
Based on allocation and distribution the last two weeks, Engen said she no longer feels confident.
In the fall, the county will likely have a good portion of people vaccinated, she said.
The situation, with most things COVID-related, is fluid.
With the new presidential administration, Engen said there new programs have been slowly opening, one of which includes the federal pharmacy program
New vaccine types could come into the mix as well. Right now only have two vaccines approved, Pfizer and Moderna. The Johnson and Johnson one-dose vaccine is being reviewed , and Engen said it will likely be available by the end of February or early March.
“We don't know how much of that will get in the state of Wisconsin or if we'll get any of it locally here. But you know, there are other companies coming quickly onboard and getting that emergency use authorization as well,” Engen said.
Vaccinations are being done in phases, putting priority on vulnerable or exposed populations. The county is still in the early 1A and 1B phases.
The county’s first focus was on nonaffiliated health care workers, as large providers and hospitals vaccinated their own staff. These nonaffiliated workers included mental health professionals, massage therapists and more.
“We realized we have a ton of them in St. Croix county,” Engen said.
After that it focused on fire and law enforcement officials.
“I believe that in St. Croix County, any fire or law enforcement, people affiliated with a village, a city or a town, if they've wanted vaccine, they could have already had it pretty successfully,” she said.
Now the focus is on residents 65 and older.
Next up in the 1B phase are education and childcare, public-facing essential workers, those in congregate living and more.
The 1C phase will include other essential workers and those with underlying health conditions, a definition that is yet to be determined.
Critical and general populations will come in the second and third phase.
Local health care partners
St. Croix, along with Pierce and Polk Counties, have partnered together with area health care providers on a tri-county response. The goal is to provide consistency in the process of rolling out vaccines.
“We thought that a tri-county response would be more effective than just a single county on its own,” Engen said.
Public Health began meeting with hospital leadership, including Allina, Vibrant Clinic, Western Wisconsin Health and HealthPartners, on a weekly basis at the end of last year to discuss vaccine rollout.
All of the health care providers in the county have also become vaccine providers throughout the state.
“We work really closely locally together to share information about how many doses that each of us are requesting on a weekly basis, and then how much we are receiving,” Engen said.
Register for vaccination
County residents can request a vaccine online at sccwi.gov/982/COVID-19-Vaccine.
So far almost 10,000 people have registered, Engen said.
The online form collects information including age, job and any underlying medical conditions. That information goes into a database that the county can filter through, and prioritize who will receive the vaccine.
Those registered will still be vaccinated in the priority phases -- signing up does not mean you’ll be immediately vaccinated.
Still, Engen encouraged people to fill out the registration, even if they aren’t in early priority groups.
Check with care provider
Those interested in getting a vaccine should also check with their health care providers, who are also vaccine distributors in the area.
“They are all very committed to reaching out to their patients of record, starting with 75 and older and working their way through and getting those people appointments,” she said.
Be skeptical, not cynical
For those who are still unsure about the vaccine, Engen’s best advice came from another doctor — it’s OK to be skeptical, it’s not OK to be cynical.
The public should ask questions and be cautious, Engen said especially in a time like this. People should look to reliable sources, like their health care provider or the CDC to address those questions.
Engen herself said she believes in vaccines, and considers them one of the top public health achievements in the last century. She is fully vaccinated for COVID-19.
“I was thrilled the day I was able to get vaccinated,” she said.