On Monday, a day when no new Wisconsin COVID-19 deaths were reported for back-to-back days for the first time since September, details remained vague about the state’s public vaccination plan.
On Thursday, the Department of Health Services announced that the Central Racine County Health Department would be one of 10 statewide health departments that would begin a preliminary rollout of Wisconsin’s vaccine registry Monday. The intention for that registry is for people who are eligible to schedule appointments at a local vaccinator, and for people who aren’t yet eligible but want to be vaccinated to put their names on a waitlist.
On Monday, neither CRCHD nor the other health departments included in the rollout had registry sign-ups publicly available, and one of the 10 health departments had dropped out.
A notice on the DHS’ website states: “The vaccine registry will likely become available to the public on March 1, 2021. Not all vaccine providers using this system will be participating as of the launch date, many will be added over time.”
The delay has been blamed on “technical issues.”
A statement from CRCHD, which covers all of Racine County excluding the City of Racine and the villages of Elmwood Park and Wind Point, said: “While the Central Racine County Health Department has been picked as a test site for the vaccine registry, there will be no public-facing interactions at this time. CRCHD continues to work with DHS to resolve technical issues with the WCVR, which will allow CRCHD to use the system in a public-facing manner.”
CRCHD also noted that private vaccinators must “opt into the registry” and so, even if it launches publicly, “it may not be a comprehensive resource for all vaccination options.”
Tech problems have plagued launches of similar programs nationwide. Massachusetts’s vaccine sign-up website crashed last week. Washington D.C.’s had similar issues in mid-January, but cleared them up within hours. In El Paso, Texas, there were reports of people submitting their information immediately followed by the webpage crashing.
Others have criticized the concept of vaccination sign-up websites since they rely on users’ access to the internet, which creates a barrier primarily for elderly and low-income populations.
“Racial and ethnic minority communities that lack internet access have been left behind in the race to get a COVID-19 vaccine. The average monthly cost of internet access, about U.S. $70, can be out of reach for those who can barely afford groceries,” wrote a trio of researchers in a column published on TheConversation.com earlier this month. “Reporters and scholars have written about the effects of lack of internet access in rural areas in the U.S. and developing countries, but they have paid less attention to the harm of lack of internet access in racial and ethnic minority communities in major cities.”
A news release asked the public to refrain from calling CRCHD about the vaccine registry and instead go to surveymonkey.com/r/VaccineContactList to sign up for weekly emails.
When DHS announced the vaccine registry last week, the plan was to have the registry periodically opened to be statewide on March 1. That same day, teachers and child care workers are planned to be able to begin being able to sign up for vaccinations. But it’s unclear if either of those plans remain on track.
The Journal Times asked DHS in an email Monday what the status of educators getting access to vaccines and when public-facing vaccine sign-ups may begin in Wisconsin. That email had not received a reply as of press time Monday.
Since the pandemic started, 6,284 Wisconsin residents’ deaths have been linked to COVID-19, according to government data.
Wisconsin’s death count is the 23rd-highest in the nation and the 34th-highest per capita, according to Johns Hopkins University. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has decreased by nearly 42%,
Wisconsin’s vaccination rate dropped from a high ranking of seventh nationally last week to 15th as of Monday, according to federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. As of Monday, 14.9% of Wisconsin’s population had received at least one dose, which was ahead of the national average of 13.3%.
Nearly 353,000 residents have received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, or about 6.1% of Wisconsin’s population, DHS said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.