Area health departments flooded with calls following 65 and older vaccination announcement

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Area public health departments are getting flooded with calls from community members after the state announced people 65 and older could get vaccinated beginning Jan. 25.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says the calls come during a time when there’s limited vaccines.

“There have been a flood of phone calls and messages,” said Mayor Barrett.  

For now, Mayor Barrett is asking people ages 65 and older to go to healthymke.com to set up a time to get vaccinated while he works to accommodate people without internet.

"This tool, this healthymke.com, is to match individuals with vaccinators so that we can set up an orderly system,” Mayor Barrett added. 

The Milwaukee Health Department isn't alone, the Wauwatosa Health Department says they’ve received hundreds of calls and emails after Tuesday’s announcement. They ask people be patient, they hope to begin vaccinating the 65-plus population in early February.

In a statement, they say in part:

“We are working hard to provide up-to-date information and vaccinate people as quickly as possible. Our department is currently vaccinating individuals in Phase 1a and hope to begin vaccinating individuals over the age of 65+ in early February. We are posting vaccine updates on our website at www.wauwatosa.net/vaccine. If you or your organization is in Phase 1a, you can visit our website to fill out a survey and we will follow up with you to schedule an appointment. If you are above 65 years old or may be eligible for Phase 1b, you can sign up for notifications on our website and we will reach out to you when we begin vaccinating the next phase. We thank everyone for their patience as we work hard to vaccinate all of our Wauwatosa Phase 1a health care providers.”

The Waukesha County Public Health Department has also been inundated with calls and emails, people are wondering what the next step is.

“When the state puts out the notification like that, a lot of people have questions and they have been reaching out to public health,” said Paul Farrow, Waukesha County executive.

Farrow says they are still a couple of weeks away from finishing the 1A group and have partnered with health care providers and fire departments to provide Phase 1 vaccinations.

“We’re working our way through it quickly and we’re just asking for people to have patience, make sure they wait for their health care provider to contact them,” he added.

The South Milwaukee and St. Francis Public Health Department says they are unable to vaccinate the 65 and older population at this time and are also still in 1A. They say until vaccine shipments increase from the state, they won’t be able to move to the next phase.

The health department’s automated message says in part:

“We do not currently have a waiting list as this population is too large for us to manage.”

Doctors say getting through the 1A group was a big undertaking, so getting through the 65 and older population will take time.

“Vaccine rollout is not going to be quite that speedy, even with the most efficient processes it’s going to take us weeks to work through that list of hundreds of thousands of people,” said Dr. Jeff Pothof, chief quality officer at UW-Health.

When asked why the Wisconsin DHS moved forward with approving vaccinations for the 65 and older population before some health departments were ready, Julie Willems Van Dijk says the announcement was shared, but it’s unfortunate some may have not gotten the message.

“The reason we went ahead before everything was tidied up is because people are dying from COVID-19, and we have vaccine—it is available, we want to get shots in arms of people who are at risk for this and that is why we are moving ahead,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary, Wisconsin DHS.

She says now they’ll know to get ready.

“For those who have vaccine on hand right now, those vaccines are much better in a 70-year-old’s arm than waiting for us to do planning over and over and over again until everything is neat and tidy,” Willems Van Dijk added.

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