by CHRIS ROGERS
All Wisconsinites 16 and older became eligible for COVID-19 vaccines on Monday. While supplies are limited, there are numerous local vaccination sites where Wisconsin residents have a shot at snagging an appointment.
At one of those sites, the Buffalo County Public Health Department’s drive-through clinic in Alma, demand was high, Interim Health Officer Dave Rynders reported. “We’ve filled every slot so far,” he said. By calling or signing up online, citizens can join a waiting list (see details below). From there, it’s first come, first served, he said.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers announced the new eligibility rules last week, encouraging Wisconsinites to seek out vaccination appointments while acknowledging “it won’t all happen at once.” Evers said, “Remember, supply is still limited, so please be patient and be kind to our vaccine providers. Believe me, they want to get you signed up and get shots in your arms just as much as you want to get them and they are working tirelessly to do so.”
Since vaccines were first authorized in December, 1.2 million Wisconsinites — 20 percent of the population— have been fully vaccinated, leaving 4.6 million people left to go. More than 50 percent of residents over 65 have been fully immunized, according to the Department of Health Services (DHS).
Rynders said the number of doses Buffalo County is able to receive from state and federal authorities keeps gradually increasing. Buffalo County hit a record high 902 shots administered in mid-March, but fell to 525 shots the week of March 28, the latest data available.
In Minnesota, all adults over 16 became eligible for vaccines last week. Many local providers’ slots filled up immediately, but others offered walk-in appointments at the end of the week. When he expanded eligibility, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said major increases in federal vaccine shipments were just around the corner. In contrast, Minnesota Department of Health Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann urged patience, saying late last week, “When we opened up eligibility, that did not coincide necessarily with a subsequent increase in the number of doses we are receiving.”
Local infections steady, but variants fuel new concerns
The expanded vaccine drives come as new COVID cases in the local area are stable, but the arrival of more contagious variants are spurring new calls for caution.
Winona County had 28 new cases in the last week, on par with the 22-33 cases per week recorded since mid-March. Weekly infections in Trempealeau County quadrupled last week — from eight cases to 36 in one week — but declined slightly this week to 20 cases as of Monday. In Buffalo County, transmission is low, with just four new cases this week.
A case of B117 variant — originally found in the U.K. — was confirmed in Trempealeau County last week. While vaccines work against it, the B117 strain was found to be roughly 50 percent more contagious and associated with 64 percent higher death rates in the U.K. than the original coronavirus, MDH State Epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield said. A total of 526 cases of the B117 variant have been confirmed in Minnesota, according to the CDC, though MDH officials said the true number likely far outstrips the confirmed cases.
Evers and DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk urged Wisconsinites to keep practicing COVID precautions, citing rising case numbers and the variants. “This pandemic is not over,” Evers said, adding, “Folks, don’t give up now. Don’t let the COVID-19 fatigue get the best of you when we are this close to the finish line. With eligibility opening up to all Wisconsinites next week and especially with the holiday weekend upon us, we need Wisconsinites to be as vigilant as ever.”
Also last week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Evers’ statewide mask mandate as unconstitutional.
“We need to continue doing our part to stop the spread,” Van Dijk stated. “Keep washing your hands well. Keep physically distancing. Keep limiting your interactions and keep wearing a mask when you’re out, even if you are fully vaccinated,” she advised.
Where to get vaccines in Wisconsin
There are numerous vaccination clinics in the local area, each with its own signup system or systems:
• Buffalo County - Buffalo County Highway Department, S1672 Highway 37, Alma - To sign up for Buffalo County’s vaccination clinic, fill out a vaccine interest form. For previously eligible priority groups (seniors, people with high-risk medical conditions, essential workers), visit https://hipaa.jotform.com/210545112790145. For the general public, visit https://hipaa.jotform.com/210885191888066. For people without internet access, call 608-685-441 ext. 1, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays.
• Trempealeau County - To sign up, fill out a vaccine interest form at https://hipaa.jotform.com/210336562588157 or, for people without internet access, leave a message at 715-538-2311 ext. 220.
• Mayo Clinic Health System - Oakridge - 13025 Eighth Street, Osseo - There are different registration systems for different eligibility groups. Visit www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/covid-19-nwwi-vaccination-phase for more information.
• Tri-County Memorial Hospital - 18601 Lincoln Street, Whitehall - Gundersen Health System’s vaccine signups are by invitation only currently. Visit www.gundersenhealth.org/covid19 for more details.
• DHS vaccination clinic at La Crosse County - To sign up visit vaccinate.wi.gov.
• More options - A full listing of vaccination sites in Wisconsin is available at www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/vaccine-map.htm.
Where to get vaccines in Minnesota
• Winona County - Each week, signups for high priority groups open on Tuesday mornings, around 9 a.m., with links posted to winonapost.com, www.facebook.com/WinonaCoHHS, and www.facebook.com/winonacountyEM530. Signups for the general public are posted Thursday mornings.
• Winona Health - Join the waiting list by filling out an interest form at tinyurl.com/26u9jhev. Most appointments are by invitation to waiting list registrants, but follow www.facebook.com/winonahealth for announcements about walk-ins and short-notice vaccination opportunities.
• Hy-Vee - Sign up at www.hy-vee.com/my-pharmacy/covid-vaccine.
• Walmart - Sign up at www.walmart.com/cp/1228302
• Gundersen Health System - Signups are by invitation only. See www.gundersenhealth.org/covid19/covid-19-vaccine for more information.
• More options - To sign up for state-run vaccination sites — the nearest is in Rochester, Minn. — and to get alerts about other options, visit mn.gov/covid19/vaccine/connector/connector.jsp. For a full listing of vaccination sites in Minnesota, visit mn.gov/covid19/vaccine/find-vaccine/locations/index.jsp.