Some newly eligible public facing employees wait for vaccine from PHMDC, some search in other counties

MADISON, Wis. — Although the focus has been on educators these first few days, teachers aren’t the only people who became eligible on Monday. All of the people in group 1B can get vaccinated now, and that includes some public facing essential workers such as bus drivers, 911 operators and food supply workers.

This week, about five or six Metro Transit bus drivers have been able to get vaccinated at the Alliant Energy Center when extra doses were available at the end of the day.

But there haven’t been enough doses for all 315 Metro Transit drivers yet.

“It’s a constant concern, being out there being a public facing employee like that,” said Mick Rusch, a spokesman for Metro Transit. “I know that our drivers really take serious what they’ve been doing this whole pandemic. I mean they’ve been out there since March, getting people to grocery stores, to pharmacies, to their jobs, you know healthcare jobs.”

Rusch said Public Health Madison & Dane County is planning to offer vaccine to all bus drivers, but that likely won’t be until late March or early April.

Dane County 911 is also waiting for it’s 911 operators to be vaccinated.

“We’ve gotten bumped down a couple of times for more public facing people, because I mean realistically we don’t have a lot of direct interaction with the public, even though we’re absolutely critical infrastructure,” said Luis Bixler, director of Dane County 911.

But Bixler said some employees have already been vaccinated.

“A lot our staff here also work with volunteer fire departments, they run paramedics so we have about 30-35% of our staff that’s already gone through both sequences of vaccinations,” said Bixler.

Dane County 911 is also working closely with PHMDC to set up a time for everyone to get vaccinated, but that might not happen until late March.

But for many newly eligible workers, it could be much longer before they get their turn at the Alliant Energy Center.

“We have found that we can get vaccines other ways, so we are reaching out to Walgreens and the VA hospital and some of the places that are offering,” said Rhonda Adams, Executive Director of The River Food Pantry.

She said The River Food Pantry has identified 30 of its regular volunteers and given them written letters to prove they’re eligible in group 1B. But the letters don’t make finding vaccine any easier.

Employees have to search for pharmacies with vaccine and reach out on their own.

“Unfortunately around the Madison area there have not been appointments, but we have volunteers and employees that are going as far as West Allis, one is going up to Baraboo tomorrow. And another one is leaving for Sheboygan this afternoon,” said Adams.

Tim Metcalfe said he is also encouraging Metcalfe’s 300 Madison employees to find vaccine wherever they can. He has also provided them letters, and told employees to bring a recent pay stub and name badge to vaccination appointments to prove that they’re eligible in 1B.

Metcalfe is actively working to get an on-site vaccination clinic scheduled, but hasn’t been able to.

Adams hopes that once the general public is eligible, The River Food Pantry can help by hosting a vaccine clinic.

“We did COVID testing, so we’d love to be a site for if there were to be such a thing as a mobile vaccine site, The River would love to be able to be a site,” said Adams.