How Wisconsin Went From One of the Worst to One of the Best States for Vaccine Distribution

Milwaukee County’s numbers still lag behind the state average.

After languishing for several weeks near the bottom of the rankings for vaccine distribution, Wisconsin is showing major signs of improvement. 

As of Thursday, Bloomberg’s COVID-19 vaccine tracker ranked Wisconsin 8th among all states for the percent of its population that has received at least one dose of the vaccine. The state also ranked 8th for the percentage of its vaccine supply that has been used, which stood at nearly 80%, according to the most recent data. 

The improvements are traced to increased collaboration between the state and local vaccinators.

As of Friday, about 11.5% of Wisconsin residents had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 3.7% being fully vaccinated, according to data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Milwaukee County, however, lags the statewide figure at 8.7%, with only 2.9% being full vaccinated. Ozaukee County checked in at 13.3%, the highest in the metro area, with 4.5% percent of its residents having completed the vaccine series.

By comparison, Dane County’s rate stood at just less than 14% who had received at least one shot and 5.7% being fully vaccinated, boosting the state’s overall numbers.

The demand for the COVID-19 vaccine still far outstrips available supply, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said in a virtual session with reporters.

“We are continuing to make a case for more vaccines for the city of Milwaukee and the surrounding areas,” he said.

Vaccination efforts served as the topic of a town hall meeting held by the city of Milwaukee on Wednesday night. Nearly 2,000 participants took part in the meeting via Zoom and Facebook, according to Barrett.

“There is still clearly a thirst for more knowledge as to when individuals will be eligible for the vaccination,” he said.

Beginning March 1, the city will begin vaccinating teachers and some essential workers, as well continue to get shots into the arms of residents who are age 65 and older, Barrett added.

Overall, about 97,400 vaccine doses have been administered to this point in Milwaukee County, according to Milwaukee County Emergency Management Medical Director Ben Weston. On a positive note, average daily vaccinations have increased by about 20% since last week, he said.

“On our end, we’ll continue to advocate for vaccine allocations to our community and continue to get vaccine into the arms of our key population as quickly as possible,” Weston said.

He urged residents to continue to adhere to precautions aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19, while recognizing increasing frustration stemming from coronavirus fatigue.

A rapidly spreading new coronavirus variant and a modest vaccine rollout makes timing critical, Weston added.

“The clock is ticking,” he said. “I’m hopeful that vaccine supply will increase and that we can buckle down for just a few more months and allow our community to get vaccinated to avoid another major, devastating spike.”

The state continues to receive a vaccine allocation that doesn’t meet demand, said Health officer Darren Rausch, who serves as director of Greenfield’s Health Department.

“Wisconsin continues to receive far too few vaccines for the demand that we have in our communities and that’s the same story we can tell here in Milwaukee County,” he said. “Unfortunately, due to the small allocations and our large population, our numbers aren’t as high.” 

The new data also shows an ongoing and troubling trend, with only 3% of Black and Hispanic residents having received at least one dose of the vaccine.

“Clearly, what we have to do is get the distribution into the neighborhoods,” Barrett said. “We are working with churches and public housing people to make sure there is an equitable distribution. I want everybody to be treated fairly. This is something that demands that we have equity.”

Part of the issue is suspicion about the vaccine among some populations, he said.

“I’ve heard from some individuals in the Central City that say they don’t trust some of this,” Barrett said. “We have to be mindful of this. We have to find people who can engender trust to say this is safe for you.”

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said he finds the racial disparity trend “disturbing.”

“There are people of color who are not getting access to healthcare,” he said. “This plays right into the historical notion of underserved communities not having equitable access, not just to healthcare but to education and housing as well.”



Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.