Mayor Tom Barrett says the City of Milwaukee is expecting to receive 800 vaccines and has put in a request for 3,000 more. (Photo by Ana Martinez-Ortiz)

While the COVID-19 vaccine isn’t yet widely available for the masses, it is available for a select few, namely persons employed by the City of Milwaukee. Eligible employees will be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the Wisconsin Center starting Tuesday, Jan. 12.

Mayor Tom Barrett along with Dr. Nick Tomaro, the public health emergency plan coordinator, made the announcement during a press conference on Monday, Jan. 11.

City employees included under the Phase 1A designation are eligible to receive the vaccine. Phase 1A employees are those considered to be frontline workers who are closest to the virus such as firefighters, lab technicians, EMS, members of the health department and so on.

“As much as we’d like to have it open to the public, that’s not going to happen today, tomorrow or next week,” Barrett said.

The city is expecting to receive 800 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Last week, it received 100 doses. Barrett said he expects Milwaukee to receive more vaccines now that it has a vaccination site. The city requested an additional 3,000 doses for next week.  

Tomaro explained that from a safety standpoint, it was important to have a large enough space to ensure proper protocols. With its multiple ballrooms, the Wisconsin Center has ample space for the health department to conduct its services efficiency and safely with the potential to expand if necessary.

Dr. Nick Tomaro says the vaccine is for Phase 1A city employees first. (Photo by Ana Martinez-Ortiz)

Tomaro mentioned that the idea to use the Wisconsin Center as a vaccine site came after the site was used for the election recount. The ballrooms equate to about 30,000 sq. ft. and there’s good air flow in place, he said. Right now, the vaccine site will remain in place till May 2. This date is subject to change.

“It’s an honor for us to be a part of this,” Marty Brooks CEO of the Wisconsin Center, adding that its not very often the convention center has an opportunity to be an asset to the city.

At the time of the press conference, the final cost to rent the space had not yet been finalized, but Tomaro and Barrett noted that CARES Act money and federal funding would help cover the cost.

Vaccine recipients must register upon entering the doors. At this time, they can sign up for the V-Safe program, a text messaging program made by the CDC that provides check-ins and surveys to people after receiving the vaccine. They may also speak with health professionals to determine they are eligible for the vaccine.

If approved, recipients will wait in the waiting room before moving to the next ballroom to receive the vaccine. Right now, the ballroom is divided into 18 vaccination stations, which can be easily doubled, Tomaro said.

After receiving the vaccine, recipients will be monitored in the case of a severe reaction. (Photo by Ana Martinez-Ortiz)

The space also includes a station where health professionals will be separating the vaccine for administration. The vaccine comes in five dose vials, but health employees have been able to extract a sixth dose, Barrett said. For example, last week the city received 100 doses, which it turned into 120.

After receiving the vaccine, recipients will be monitored in a waiting area for 15 to 30 minutes in case a severe reaction should occur. If no reaction occurs, then individuals can exit the building.

Dr. Heather Paradis, deputy commissioner of medical services, said so far only one individual has had a reaction but it was several days after the initial monitoring and considered less severe. Severe reactions include difficulty breathing, a rash and dizziness shortly after receiving the vaccine.

As the city receives more vaccines, Phase 1B employees will be offered the opportunity. These include educators, police officers and others.

Eventually the city hopes to open the site to the public.

“We expect to be able to do a thousand vaccines a day,” Tomaro said. He added that the vaccination plan is a multi-prong approach and includes the possibility of mobile vaccination sites and more.