The Kress Events Center at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay normally is a hub of student activity this time of year. But this is no ordinary year as the pandemic continues to rage and the center now functions as a Prevea Community COVID-19 Vaccination Clinic.
The clinic, which opened in January, was the first of its kind in Northeast Wisconsin and is one of the largest in the state. Its capacity allows it to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to more than 10,500 people each week as more doses become available and additional phases of vaccine eligibility are announced by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
Prevea Health President and CEO Dr. Ashok Rai says creating a central site to distribute the vaccine makes sense since it allows for a more organized operation.
“There’s a lot of planning that’s necessary in distributing the vaccine and having the larger sites helps that,” he says. “There are a lot of rules with the vaccine such as once it thaws out, it expires at the end of the day. If we have concentrated sites, there’s more certainty about what will be used.”
In addition to the UW-Green Bay site, Prevea opened community vaccination clinics on the campuses of UW-Green Bay-Marinette and UW-Green Bay-Sheboygan.
In Wisconsin, organizations need to apply to provide the vaccine to patients. Once approved, they must follow rules, including making sure the vaccine is stored at an ultra-low freezing temperature. In addition, two shots are needed for someone to be fully immunized, which means the work doesn’t stop when people receive their first shot.
Advocate Aurora Health created a vaccine clinic at each of its hospitals and plans to have four larger community clinics across its Wisconsin footprint, says Dr. Jeff Bahr, chief Aurora Medical Group officer.
“Setting up the vaccination centers has been extremely complex. I was reminiscing with a colleague how we used to line up at school to get polio shots — there wasn’t online scheduling or anything like that,” he says. “Beyond the IT needed, the COVID vaccine needs to be stored at extremely low temperatures, so you need to make sure all of the locations have the supplies for what’s needed.”
In Appleton, the Fox Cities Exhibition Center is being used as a community vaccination site with area health care organizations, including Ascension Wisconsin, ThedaCare, Mosaic Family Health, Kaukauna Clinic, Primary Care Associates and Partnership Community Health Center sharing the workload of what clearly will be a monthslong project.
Appleton Health Officer Kurt Eggebrecht says the Fox Cities COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic at the Fox Cities Exhibition Center started out immunizing 1,000 people per week, but that number grew as more vaccine doses became available.
“We’re in a race against time” with the virus variants emerging and “it’s important to get as many people vaccinated as soon as possible,” he says. We are “fortunate we live where we live. It’s truly a testament to the partnerships that we’ve had over the years and decades here in the Fox Valley.”
The center’s large ballroom was transformed into a vaccine clinic by using curtains to create small separate “rooms” for people to receive their shots.
To ensure there’s enough staff to work its vaccine clinics, Advocate Aurora reached out to retired workers to help in clinical and nonclinical areas. “We’ve also put out a call to volunteers who want to help with welcoming and navigating people through the process,” Bahr says.
As its hospitals see a decrease in the number of COVID-19 patients, Advocate Aurora also has tapped current workers
to help in the vaccine clinics, he adds.
Rai says as more vaccines become available, the goal is to increase the capacity of Prevea’s vaccination sites, the three in Northeast Wisconsin and one in Eau Claire, with the goal of administering 20,000 vaccines each week to community residents.
“We will continue to scale up as vaccine supply becomes available and everyone in our community who wants a vaccine, gets a vaccine,” he says.