‘The more locations, the better’: Navigating the hundreds of options for vaccination in Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis. – The COVID-19 vaccine eligibility expansion is bound to send a fair share of people in Wisconsin on the hunt for an appointment, where they’ll find a nearly overwhelming number of provider options.

On Monday, everyone 16 and older in the state became eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services maps out all vaccinators in the state, providing links to websites where users can try to book an appointment or sign up for wait lists.

From public health departments to health systems to local pharmacies to chains such as Walgreens and Walmart, there are hundreds of options to choose from in the state, but that doesn’t mean finding an appointment will be easy. With limited vaccine supply and therefore appointments, health officials say it will take persistence and perhaps a bit of luck.

“It’s kind of like a lottery type thing,” said Rick Conner, the director of operations for the dozens of Hometown Pharmacies in Wisconsin. “I’ve had people tear up. I’ve seen over the phone, excitement, joy, like they almost dropped their phone.”

There are 70 Hometown Pharmacy locations throughout Wisconsin and the Upper Michigan, with some part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. Conner is the owner and pharmacist at the Hartland location.

“At one point, we had over 1,500 people on the wait list just for this store alone, and many of the other Hometowns are in the same boat,” he said.

Conner suggests people get on their waitlist online, noting it shouldn’t take much longer than 10 to 14 days to hear back as they move through it in the order people signed up. It could even be sooner, because many people they call say they’ve already gotten the vaccine elsewhere. While that can be frustrating logistically, Conner said he understands why people sign up on multiple lists.

“I think it’s something we have to deal with. The anxiety out there of not having a vaccine, I get it,” he said. “If they sign up on five, six different ones and one of them gets them in there, that’s great. As pharmacists, we all work together for the same cause. The ultimate goal is to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible.”

“Finally we have vaccines and appointments. Anyone can request the dose and get it,” said Mo Kharbat, regional vice president of pharmacy services at SSM Health. “Let’s end this pandemic.”

SSM Health has a new scheduling portal online for anyone, not just established patients.

“You follow the prompts, a few steps later, you will be scheduled for an appointment,” Kharbat said. “We made it simple and easy.”

Those who are 16 and 17 will need to call to make an appointment to ensure that they receive the Pfizer vaccine, the only shot approved for those ages.

All Wisconsin residents age 16 and older are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccination. Schedule your appointment today!
Online self-scheduling portal: https://www.ssmhealth.com/access/covid19-vaccine-scheduling

Posted by SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital – Madison on Monday, April 5, 2021

Kharbat noted that the wide array of options for vaccination outside of health systems, including pharmacies and sites away from clinic buildings, can make a big difference.

“We need to give our patients more options to make it convenient for them,” Kharbat said. “The more locations, the better, and the higher chances for anyone to find an appointment.”

“It’s allowing rural areas to have access,” Conner said.

Wisconsin is currently ranked No. 1 in percentage of vaccines distributed.