GREENDALE, Wis. – Wisconsin’s first mobile vaccination teams began helping local health departments administer COVID-19 vaccines across the state this week.
The teams, which represent a joint effort of state resources and are made up of Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen from the Wisconsin National Guard and vaccinators from the University of Wisconsin system, ran a pilot program on Jan. 19 in Greendale.
Teams have since assisted health departments in Eau Claire and Baraboo with vaccination clinics.
Local and tribal health departments are the lead agencies managing the effort in collaboration with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the Wisconsin National Guard.
“The purpose of mobile vaccination teams is to help support and assist our local partners in their vaccination efforts,” explained Kay Mittelstadt-Lock of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. “Local health departments that may exceed their capacity with staffing, resources or space can put in a resource request with the State Emergency Operations Center through Wisconsin Emergency Management.”
Once a request for assistance is approved at the state level, a mobile vaccination team is dispatched. That team consists of four members of the Wisconsin National Guard, who manage many of the administrative aspects of the operation, and two vaccinators – many of whom are University of Wisconsin system students.
The students, who generally are pharmacy students or entering medical fields, get hands-on experience, clinical hours, and potentially some tuition reimbursement, depending on their degree program. The community gets the additional surge capacity it needs to administer more vaccines.
“Vaccinators are in short supply because those that can vaccinate are busy in the hospitals, and EMS can vaccinate but they’re busy with their responses as well, so we need to reach out to those who aren’t currently working in the health field but can give a vaccine,” Mittelstadt-Lock said.
The mobile vaccination teams assist at points of distribution, or “PODs” – universally designed setups and vaccination processes that are the same no matter the location.
Each POD runs the same way. The Wisconsin National Guard assists with staffing the PODs.
Capt. David Eischen, a physician’s assistant in the Wisconsin National Guard who also practices cardiology in Sheboygan as a civilian, explained the system.
“You could basically land and set one up because they use the same terminology and the same kind of setups,” he said. “All that really changes is the physical location that you’re doing it at.”
Those receiving the vaccine first encounter a triage station where a greeter ensures that only healthy individuals enter the POD. Those who have COVID-19 symptoms or a pending COVID test are not allowed entry. Where mobile vaccination teams are supporting the local health department, a member of the Wisconsin National Guard performs this function.
A second station serves as a registration and education station where a Guard member identifies the individual and confirms they are to receive the vaccine. They provide some information about the vaccine and verify that individuals have their paperwork completed.
In the third step, health professionals will conduct a medical screening, ascertain health history, and make sure the individual is appropriate to receive the vaccine.
In step four, a vaccinator administers the vaccine before moving onto the fifth and final step, where National Guard members or other medical personnel observe the patient for 15 to 30 minutes to ensure the individual has no adverse reactions.
Eischen said 36 Soldiers and Airmen from the Wisconsin National Guard are staffing nine such mobile vaccination teams with four members each. But as the mobile vaccination team concept moves from pilot program to full implementation, the state and the National Guard expect that to grow.
The team administered more than 60 vaccines to unaffiliated health care providers, police, fire and EMS personnel in the area on the first day. By week’s end, the teams had administered nearly 500 vaccines after supporting clinics in Eau Claire, Baraboo, and Greendale a second day.
The entire vaccination process usually takes about 30 minutes per person, with a plan for roughly two appointments every 10 minutes, Eischen said.
“It’s huge for me being a health care provider out here through the duration of the COVID response and to be leading teams that are impacting their communities in real-time,” said Eischen, who has been mobilized for the Wisconsin National Guard’s COVID response since March. “Every needle that goes into an arm is one less opportunity for the virus to really take hold. I think we can finally start gaining ground, so that’s the impact for me. That’s why I got up this morning all excited and just to see a larger vision become a reality in real-time.”