Jeramey Jannene

City Shows Off Wisconsin Center Vaccination Hub

Public could be vaccinated there in future weeks. Effort starting with frontline workers.

By - Jan 11th, 2021 03:48 pm
COVID-19 Vaccination Hub at the Wisconsin Center. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

COVID-19 Vaccination Hub at the Wisconsin Center. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Frontline City of Milwaukee employees will be the first to get vaccinated at a new city-run COVID-19 vaccination hub at the Wisconsin Center, but they won’t be the last, officials say.

“The site is not open to the general public,” said mayoral special assistant Jodie Tabak as a media tour of the facility kicked off Monday afternoon. “At this time,” interjected Mayor Tom Barrett.

Ultimately the plan is to serve more than frontline employees.

The city will receive 800 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week from the state, building on a 100-dose distribution last week. The vaccines will go into the arms of city employees, all members of the Milwaukee Health Department and Milwaukee Fire Department, that qualify under the state’s phase 1A designation. That includes up to 700 members of the fire department and a couple hundred members of the health department, including those performing testing.

As the city receives more vaccine doses and the state finalizes a definition of the 1B group, more people will be able to be vaccinated. The city is requesting 3,000 doses for next week, which would go to non-employee, 1A-eligible vaccine recipients once the city finishes the list of eligible employees. “As we get into the later weeks of this month, we expect to be able to do 1,000 [doses] per day,” said Nick Tomaro, public health emergency response planning coordinator for the city. The 1B group is expected to include teachers and other essential workers as well as elderly members of the public.

Vaccine recipients will work their way through four ballrooms at the convention center, going from check-in to observation.

“This room allows us to exponentially scale up,” said Tomaro of the vaccination ballroom as media members were walked through the process. Eighteen vaccination stations could be quickly rearranged into 36, and then the room could be expanded using movable walls.  Tomaro said the facility is ideally suited because of its 30-foot ceilings, large open spaces, filtration system and continuous air exchange.

The city is receiving the Pfizer vaccine, which is required to be frozen at very cold temperatures. A hub-and-spoke model has the city receiving the vaccine in refrigerated vials shortly before it is administered. “We will not ever receive [the vaccine] in a deep freeze,” said Tomaro.

The vials will be placed in a city-owned Helmer Scientific Horizon series HLR120 refrigerator with internet-enabled remote monitoring in a key-card protected room. Temperatures between 36 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit will be maintained. Where is it? “We don’t need to talk about that publicly,” said Barrett. Tomaro said the Wisconsin Center staff will guard the room around the clock. The Milwaukee Police Department could also become involved.

The vials the city is receiving have included one surprise so far. From “most five dose vials of Pfizer, we can usually get a sixth dose,” said Barrett. An initially delivery of 100 doses actually yielded 120. Barrett and Tomaro said a similar situation is playing out nationally. “That’s a 20% increase that happens, pow, just like that,” said Barrett, clapping his hands.

After receiving the vaccination individuals will be monitored for at least 15 minutes. Dr. Heather Paradis, deputy commissioner of medical services, said only one individual has had what’s being labeled a “less severe reaction” to date, which occurred after the initial monitoring. She said the recommendation is that this individual not receive a second dose. Tomaro said individuals can opt into the federal V-Safe program to provide information on any reactions.

Fire department personnel will provide staffing for the monitoring room, while health department personnel will staff the other positions.

The idea to use the convention center came from its role in hosting the presidential election recount in November. The city, using federal funds, will now pay to rent the facility through May 2nd. “They offered us a pretty significant discount on this space,” said Tomaro. A specific amount was not immediately available, but Tomaro said it is a per-day fee. Much of the recount cost went to pay for the convention facility.

Wisconsin Center District CEO Marty Brooks joined the tour briefly and said the district was happy to show its facilities have value to the public outside of conventions. Barrett praised him for being a great partner.

But Barrett and Tomaro don’t view the Wisconsin Center site as an end-all, be-all facility. “This is our starting point,” said Tomaro. “We will go mobile at a certain point.” The initial vaccines given last week were distributed at the former Mill Road Library.

Wells Street, which runs in a quasi-tunnel under the convention center’s upper floors, could be used for drive-through testing in the future. Tomaro has led the setup of COVID-19 testing facilities across the city, including a large facility at American Family Field.

“The health department is filled with all stars right now who have gone above and beyond the call of duty for the past 10 days,” said Barrett.

The city is not the only entity in Milwaukee receiving vaccine doses. Healthcare providers and Milwaukee County have also received allocations.


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