Milwaukee securing thousands more COVID-19 vaccines in the coming weeks as new strain emerges

NOW: Milwaukee securing thousands more COVID-19 vaccines in the coming weeks as new strain emerges

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Mayor Tom Barrett Says the city of Milwaukee will be getting thousands of COVID-19 vaccines in the coming weeks from the state. This development comes as a new strain is emerging in more than a dozen U.S. states.

Epidemiologists say it’s important to keep an eye on a new COVID-19 variant called B.1.1.7. It’s already here in Wisconsin and some models by the CDC have shown it spreads at least 50-percent faster than the current dominant strain.

“As you know if it spreads faster, it will get to people at higher risk faster—so we really need to be careful,” said Dr. Laura Cassidy, epidemiologist at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Dr. Laura Cassidy says while B.1.1.7 is more contagious and spreads faster, it doesn’t produce more severe disease and hospitalizations.

“While it’s mutated, it’s still something we can identify, but I think to consider is the more people infected, the more chance it has to mutate,” Dr. Cassidy added.

Dr. Cassidy says current COVID-19 vaccines are believed to be effective and for a virus to mutate is normal, but the CDC says the slower than expected vaccine rollout needs to be stepped up.

“It is concerning that the new strain spreads faster, and the faster we can get vaccinations into people, the better off we are,” said Dr. Cassidy.

“Our goal is of course to get this open as quickly as we can to the general population, but right now the work that’s being done at the Wisconsin Center is for the 1A group,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Mayor Barrett says the 900 doses the city has received to vaccinate the 1A group were stretched to immunize more than 1,100 people. He expects thousands more doses in the coming weeks.

“By the end of this week we will have probably close to 5,000 -- anywhere from 4,500 to 5,000 and then hoping to get another 5,000 next week,” he added.

Mayor Barrett says he is concerned with disparities in COVID-19 vaccine distribution with not a high enough percentage of people in the African American and Hispanic populations receiving doses. He wants unaffiliated home health care workers in the community to take advantage of doses available at the Wisconsin Center.

“Home health care is far more diverse, and people who work in home health care are far more likely to be from our community, both on the north side and on the south side,” said Mayor Barrett. “I want to make a special request for individuals and agencies in the city of Milwaukee who are involved in home health care to make sure that you are getting your workers vaccinated.”

Mayor Barrett hopes within a day or two the city can also move forward with plans for phase 1B, and other vaccine makers will be able to come out with additional doses.

“We believe that there are going to be others that are going to be approved not in weeks but in days, and that, I think, will help with the backlog that you’re hearing about and reading about nationally,” Mayor Barrett said.

A CDC research team believes B.1.1.7 could be the predominant COVID-19 strain by March, for now doctors say continue to mask up, keep your distance, wash your hands and avoid crowds.

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