Franklin mayor on vaccines: The rest of the story

Mavis Knox, L, prays just before nurse Sandra Lindsay, R, receives the second dose of a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in the Queens borough of New York City. Photo: Reuters

“I’m trying.”

That’s what Franklin Mayor Steve Olson told me about the WI Department of Health Services and how it’s handling disseminating information to local health departments about the COVIS-19 vaccines.

He’s not happy.

Here’s important background. Last Thursday Olson sent an e-mail to Daphne Chen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

In your article today: “Coronavirus cases on uptick as state announces more than 110,000 vaccine doses administered” you mention a couple of things that caught my eye. 

 “the state had sharply ramped up its progress on vaccines after the holidays, with 110,201 doses of vaccine administered as of Thursday.”  My question to DHS would be:  How many doses remain in the hands of the state and not in the hands of people who can administer them?  I believe you’ll be shocked at the amount of vaccine still in the hands of the bureaucracy in Madison. 

“As of Tuesday, the state had approved 1,066 organizations to act as vaccinators, DHS said, up from 108 in mid-December.”  My question would be:  CDC has issued guidelines for qualified vaccinators.  Why has the state DHS added additional qualifications to the CDC’s?  Why has the state not automatically authorized the hundreds of local health departments to be vaccinators since they’re constantly running vaccination and immunization clinics?  (I suspect that there isn’t a single person at the DHS or the state that has ever administered a vaccine or participated in a mass vaccination event.) And, why didn’t DHS have a plan for vaccination efforts and worked to certify vaccinators prior to December? 

“everyone in Wisconsin who wants a vaccine will be able to get the vaccine, but it will take some time.”  My immediate question is:  How long, how much time given the slow pace of administering to date? 

“state health officials acknowledged that the state needs to pick up the pace but urged members of the public to have patience, noting that they are constrained by how much supply of vaccine they receive each week from the federal government.”  Which would have caused me to immediately ask:  Again, how many doses has the state received to date?  How many doses has the Fed’s committed to over the next month?  Who will receive those doses?  How long is the period between the state receiving the doses and the vaccinator actually delivering a dose? 

Mayor Barrett was very proud that Milwaukee, the largest city in the state has received 100 doses.  Seriously?  Out of 110,000? 

Please ask more questions and more forcefully. 

There’s an ICC meeting (zoom) Monday afternoon with the mayors and village presidents of Milwaukee County.  Lt. Governor Barnes will be on the call.  Rest assured, I’ll be asking these questions.

The state’s performance has been abysmal at best. 

Mayor Steve Olson

Chen responded:Mayor Olson,

Thank you for reaching out. We’ve been more and more of this sentiment, but DHS has more or less said that the people who are confused or upset about the rollout are isolated cases. Would you be willing to do an interview with me?

Olson consented to an interview. Here’s a portion of Chen’s article:

Gov. Tony Evers and seven other Democratic governors are asking federal health officials to release more doses of COVID-19 vaccine to their states, alleging the Trump administration is holding back the shots. 

The Department of Health Services provides local health departments daily updates on vaccine distribution details and hold weekly forums with local and tribal health officials to provide the latest information on the rollout. 

It also provides weekly webinars to answer questions about the rollout, according to DHS.

The rollout, which is in its fourth week, has been criticized by some private practice doctors, firefighters and assisted living facility directors who said they have been confused about when and how to get vaccinated.

On Friday, Franklin Mayor Steve Olson expressed frustration about what he said was a lack of communication from state health officials to Wisconsin’s hundreds of local health departments.  

“Something this serious needs to have much better coordination and cooperation and communication,” Olson said. “It’s been disjointed and hasn’t been to the level that needs to happen for a pandemic.”

All local health departments receive the DHS updates and forum invitations, according to the department.

Olson pointed to states like Michigan, which has activated many of its local health departments to start vaccinating senior citizens ages 65 and over. 

“We’re all going through this for the first time, at least in terms of us experiencing the pandemic,” Olson said. “But I know my health officer and health officers in Milwaukee County have their acts together. They’re ready to go. Give us the vaccines.”  

I have chided Olson many times in the past for constantly criticizing “the state,” often using “the state” as a scapegoat for some Franklin problems. In this instance I told the mayor he could and should have been tougher on Evers and his administration. Olson responded by sharing some of his quotes that did NOT make the newspaper article:

“(Health) Secretary designee Palm has never worked at the local level and is making this a bureaucratic nightmare when there’s perhaps a thousand local health officers that do immunization clinics all the time.

“I have no clue why the Governor isn’t sending out the vaccines.  It’s unfathomable that the largest city in the state gets 100 doses and the largest county in total gets less than 1000.  This isn’t leadership.”

Good for the mayor.

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