Rusk County recorded its 1,000 positive COVID-19 case last week, as health officials over the weekend were marking the state’s 4,000 death linked to the illness.
A virus vaccine began being distributed this week as shipments of frozen vials of vaccine made by Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech began arriving at hospitals around the country Monday.
The Rusk County Health Department announced eight new cases last Friday, giving it 1,001 total positives since the pandemic began last spring. In the same time there have been 4,068 COVID-related deaths in the state, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
DHS data shows it took Wisconsin just three weeks to record another 1,000 COVID-19-related deaths since reaching 3,000 on Nov. 21.
As of this week Monday, county health officials reported 214 open active cases with 1,014 total positives. Since the pandemic began, the county totals include 11 deaths, 54 hospitalizations and 789 recoveries. Another 4,107 tests came back negative.
The county recorded its 11th death related to COVID-19 on Wednesday, Dec. 9.
Meanwhile, the largest vaccination campaign in U.S. history is now underway in a sign of hope that could stem the spread of the virus. The first shipments of Pfizer’s vaccine for widespread use in the U.S. headed Sunday from Michigan to distribution centers across the country.
Approval of a Moderna vaccine is pending.
Gov. Tony Evers with DHS officials announced, Monday, Wisconsin is anticipating the arrival of 49,725 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week with shipments expected to increase over the coming weeks and months once more supply becomes available. The first doses of the vaccine will be shipped directly to regional hubs across the state.
State health officials have partnered with eight hubs that have the ultra-low temperature storage capabilities needed for the Pfizer vaccine and are willing to redistribute the vaccine to providers in their regions. DHS has been working closely with Wisconsin Emergency Management and the Wisconsin National Guard, and local, state, and federal partners to ensure the safe, quick, and efficient distribution of the vaccine throughout the state.
“Since the early days in the pandemic, we have been planning and preparing for the arrival of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine,” Evers said. “I fully trust in the expertise of our scientists, researchers, and public health experts who are guiding our planning, preparation, and distribution. They have put a lot of effort into ensuring that the vaccine infrastructure and clinics are ready for the successful rollout of our Wisconsin COVID-19 Vaccine Program.”
Due to the initial limited supply of vaccine, the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee (SDMAC) developed Wisconsin-specific recommendations on vaccine prioritization. Based on these phase 1a recommendations from federal and state health experts, the first populations to receive vaccine will be frontline healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities. As Wisconsin begins to receive more vaccine doses from the federal government, the recommendations will expand beyond phase 1a.
“While we are excited and ready to begin vaccinating those that experts have identified as priority populations, we must remember that this is going to be a long process for everyone,” said Secretary-designee Andrea Palm. “We are asking Wisconsinites to be patient and continue to help slow the spread of the virus by staying home as much as possible, wearing a mask, physical distancing, getting tested, and washing your hands.”
On Friday, Dec. 11, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for the 2-dose series Pfizer vaccine, making it the first COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. This authorization comes after the Pfizer product underwent rigorous clinical trials and an expedited review process to ensure the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.
On Saturday, Dec. 12, the expert committee members of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted to recommend the use of the vaccine. The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) accepted those recommendations. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine may be administered in persons aged 16 years and older for the prevention of COVID-19.
On Monday Dec. 14, vaccine shipments began to arrive in Wisconsin at designated regional hubs. DHS is prioritizing hospitals and clinics as initial vaccination sites so as to reach front-line healthcare workers, as recommended both by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee.
Pfizer and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) have provided up to date materials for vaccinators, and Wisconsin’s initial group of healthcare providers are completing the steps they need to take to begin vaccination. A second vaccine, manufactured by Moderna, is scheduled to be reviewed by the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) on Dec. 17. If approved by the FDA, Wisconsin is set to receive 101,000 COVID-19 Vaccines from Moderna next week.
Currently, Marshfield Medical Center-Ladysmith has not received its vaccine allotment, a hospital representative stated.
DHS has officially activated the federal government’s pharmacy distribution program for the COVID-19 vaccine.
“This announcement is another step forward toward ensuring our most vulnerable Wisconsinites get the vaccine quickly and safely,” Evers said. “While hope is on the horizon, the best way Wisconsinites can help keep the folks living and working in our long-term care facilities healthy and safe is to continue to take every precaution to stop the spread by staying home, practicing physical distancing, and wearing a mask whenever out in public.”
A partnership between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the national pharmacy chains Walgreens and CVS, the program will utilize the Moderna vaccine pending its upcoming Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The effort, which will begin with skilled nursing facilities, involves the on-site vaccination of residents and staff of long-term care facilities. It is set to begin on Dec. 28.
“We are many months away from having enough COVID-19 vaccine supply and reaching high vaccination coverage,” DHS officials stated in an email.
DHS officials encouraged the public to continue wearing masks, physical distancing, washing hands, and getting tested and isolating if they have signs and symptoms of COVID-19.
“Even after the first people get vaccinated, it is important to continue using all these COVID-19 precautions so that we stand the best chance of getting our families, communities, schools, and workplaces back to normal sooner,” DHS officials stated.