MILWAUKEE — With COVID-19 restrictions and mask mandates on their way out, the Milwaukee Health Department is sharpening its focus to reach more people with vaccines. The city is in a new phase in its vaccination efforts, bringing vaccine directly into neighborhoods, including free clinics at three Milwaukee Public Library branches.
It is a targeted strategy, as the health department zeroes in on neighborhoods with lower vaccination rates compared to the city as a whole.
Above the stacks of the Washington Park Library on the city’s west side, a vaccination team sets up three days a week for residents to walk in for their shot.
Dyllen Dawson and Jazmyn Whiteside walked right up without any wait.
Dawson says he wasn’t sure if he would get the COVID-19 vaccine. However, his grandmother insisted he and Whiteside to get their shot so she could feel safe with their newborn.
“I see her all the time and the baby’s got to visit her, so I had to get the shot,” Dawson said.
His grandmother is the type of messenger the health department is counting on the encourage friends and family who might be on the fence about vaccines.
The city wants to reach people where they are, whether they are at school, church or the library. Milwaukee residents can even call 414-286-6800 to schedule an in-home vaccination.
“For us, it’s definitely a feeling that we have to get into neighborhoods,” said Dr. Nick Tomaro, the health department’s preparedness coordinator. “We have to be as many places as we can be for accessibility and convenience and places that people think about [so] that they’re comfortable coming.”
Milwaukee health commissioner Kirsten Johnson told a Common Council committee on Wednesday that 48% of residents over the age of 16 have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. However, some areas are far behind the rest of the city. For instance, in some neighborhoods in the ZIP code 53208, where the Washington Park Library is located, about 20% of residents have received their first dose.
The city hopes its micro-targeting strategy with dozens of mobile clinics, including those at three libraries, will help increase vaccination rates across the city.
For Dawson, the COVID-19 vaccine offers peace of mind when visiting family. To Whiteside, it’s a step toward a more enjoyable summer.
“It has been a long time since we’ve all been maskless,” Whiteside said. “To see each other’s faces fully again, I’m pretty excited about that.”
Two Milwaukee libraries offer walk-in vaccinations three days a week: Clinics at the Zablocki branch on the south side and Washington Park Library on the west side are open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays and noon to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays. The Mitchell Street Library offers COVID-19 vaccinations Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 4 p.m.