MADISON, Wis. — Nearly 200 Walgreens pharmacies across Wisconsin are expecting to receive coronavirus vaccines directly from the federal government starting this week, marking the beginning of a program that targets underserved areas, state health officials announced Thursday.

The vaccinations will be provided for free under the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, a state and federal partnership, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said. Initially, there will be about 17,800 doses of vaccine sent to 178 Walgreens locations across the state, or about 100 for each location.

All who are eligible for vaccination, which includes anyone over age 65, must schedule an appointment by phone or through the Walgreens website, the health department said.

The state cautioned that due to limited supply, not everyone eligible will be able to get a vaccination appointment. Vaccinations through that program were expected to begin Friday.

"It's true that we're getting more shots in arms, but the vaccine is still a scarce resource, and we have plenty of masks to go around, so mask up," Gov. Tony Evers said in a statement.

Wisconsin now ranks ninth nationally in the percentage of the population that has received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wisconsin vaccination rate of 10.6% is ahead of the national average of 10.2%. The state's data, which is more current than that posted by the CDC, indicates 11.1% of the population was vaccinated as of Thursday.

Wisconsin has administered at least one dose to 34% of people over age 65, the state health department said. To date, more than 860,389 vaccinations have been given and 197,362 people are fully vaccinated, the health department said.

However, new state health department data posted Thursday shows that only about 3% of the state's Black residents and around 3% of Hispanics have been vaccinated. Those disparities track national numbers showing Black people getting vaccinated at much lower rates than white people.

"We have a lot of work to do in Wisconsin to achieve equitable vaccine distribution and uptake, and even more work to do to achieve equitable health outcomes beyond vaccination," said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy director of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

The department uses a social vulnerability index to measure where disparities exist in order to target vaccine distribution to Walgreens stores in those areas, said Dr. Stephanie Schauer, program manager for the state Division of Public Health Immunization.

The data also shows that more health care providers who were in the first wave of people to be vaccinated are not as ethnically diverse as the population at large, Willems Van Dijk said.

"It leads to a question, which is: 'What can we do to better diversify our health care workforce, or our police workforce or our fire workforce?'" she said. "What are the barriers to people of color from becoming health care workers?"

In addition to people over age 65, those eligible for the vaccine include front-line health care workers, residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities, police, firefighters and those who work in prisons.

Positive cases of COVID-19 have been trending downward in Wisconsin since their peak in mid-November. The seven-day average of new cases is at its lowest point in five months. To date, more than 553,000 people have tested positive and 6,140 have died.


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