APPLETON, Wis.— There’s no playbook that comes with vaccinating an entire region, or entire state, for COVID-19.
But healthcare providers have a wealth of knowledge they’re pulling from as they gear up to begin vaccinating people 65 and older next week.
“This is something new we’re doing. The nice thing is we have chapters out of other books we can pull in,” said Dr. Mark Cockley, chief clinical officer at ThedaCare in Appleton. “Giving vaccinations isn’t new. We do that in the pediatric offices every day, multiple times, with a series of vaccines that are important; they’re in sequence…. Flu shots every year. Pneumonia vaccines for people 65 years of age to protect them and reduce mortality. It’s not new completely.”
What is new, is a surge in requests for vaccinations. With the announcement that tens of thousands of people across Wisconsin who are 65 and older can start getting their shots Monday, healthcare providers are facing a landslide of requests that— in some cases— have taxed both phone and web-based systems.
“We’ve been ramping up our ability on our [portal] to be able to schedule. That’s the preferred route. We’ve also gained some capacity in our contact center for phone scheduling just to try to accommodate,” said Sharla Baenen, chief operating officer with Bellin Health in Green Bay. “Obviously everyone is calling trying to schedule their appointment if they’re 65 and older.”
Patience is a word frequently used when addressing that task.
“The goal is we will get everyone vaccinated who wants to be vaccinated,” Baenen said.
Checking with local providers is one of the first steps in preparing to register for the shot. Many systems are handling appointments online and have information posted electronically.
“No matter where you are in the state, you need to contact, or see what your local health system, is doing,” Cockley said. ”Some have different platforms as far as medical health records, as far as scheduling processes and how they tee people up to get ready to get the vaccine. Check what’s going on locally.”
There’s still a wild card in the best laid local plans.
“The one thing we’re watching closely is the vaccine inventory,” Baenen said. “That really determines how many appointments we can open next week. As we get later into the week, we’ll likely learn if we'll get what we’re hoping we get. Based on that, we’ll hopefully be able to open up some more appointments for even next week.”