Vaccine demand varies by county; many see interest decline, availability open up

DHS: Shots won’t go unused
Jefferson County

MADISON, Wis. – It may finally be easier to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment, but a lot of that depends on where you live.

In the beginning, appointments filled quickly. Demand looked endless. Supply, however, was harder to come by.

“In Iowa County, every drop that we get, is going in an arm,” Iowa County Emergency Management Director Keith Hurlbert said. “We seem to have more demand than we have vaccine at this point.”

Hurlbert said with small vaccine allocations that are just getting smaller, they’re not having problems filling appointments.

“I just know counties around us have had a tougher time lately to fill all of their slots,” he said. “It’s different. Even the county next door can have the exact opposite situation to what we have.”

A difference in demand

In some ways, the differences can boil down to supply and demand.

“Wisconsin is one of the top states in terms of how efficient we are at putting shots in arms,” said Mo Kharbat, regional vice president of pharmacy services at SSM Health.

Once the No. 1 state in the country, Wisconsin dropped slightly to sixth in the latest rankings, with about 87% of vaccines administered.

Demand isn’t level across the state.

Kharbat said SSM Health’s vaccination clinics across the area fill more quickly in Dane County than Sauk and Rock.

“The demand for vaccine in Dane County continues to be very strong, a lot stronger than what we’re seeing in the other counties,” he said.

That’s reflected in the percent of residents vaccinated. As of Wednesday, Wisconsin Department of Health Services numbers show about 54% of Dane County residents have gotten at least one shot, rising well above the state total of 41%.

“Perhaps because we’re not seeing the same level of hesitancy in Madison, and perhaps because access is not a big problem,” Kharbat said. “Yes, most appointments fill up very quickly, and to get an appointment you more likely than not have to wait, but there are so many options in Dane County.”

Counties such as Rock, Dodge and Jefferson are falling below the state average.

“We have far fewer people signing up,” said Samroz Jakvani, an epidemiologist and COVID-19 public information officer with the Jefferson County Health Department. “We have maybe three or four people signing up each day as opposed to the hundreds and thousands that were registering in the first few weeks, and we’re having a lot of trouble filling those appointments.”

Jakvani said that could be driven by county differences, especially between urban and rural areas.

“Some of it comes down to access, some of it comes down to lifestyles and personal beliefs that folks have, which could be about vaccines in general or it could be about the COVID-19 pandemic in particular, but we’re seeing a lot of that particularly in areas that are less urban,” he said. “Jefferson County is close to an urban area, but it’s still an area where we have a lot of folks who aren’t super motivated to follow the guidance and get vaccinated.”

He said combatting that comes down to education, both about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, but also getting the word out about available appointments. He said that’s especially important as Jefferson County sees rising COVID-19 cases. More information can be found on the county’s website here.

If needed, the county can list unfilled appointments on the state registry for anyone.

“They have completely filled up each time we have done so within a short amount of time, which tells us that vaccine is less available in other areas,” Jakvani said.

At the end of the day, Jefferson county health officials will also get creative to get extra doses to its residents.

“We’ll do anything,” Jakvani said. “We’ll walk around the parking lot of the mall and ask anyone if they’re willing to get vaccinated.”

According to a statement from DHS, vaccinators must use their allocated vaccine within seven days of receiving it, and on the “rare occasions when there is leftover vaccine, they are encouraged to use it in a community clinic.”

A number of counties got back to News 3 Now, including Marquette, Grant and Green Lake, saying interest is starting to dry up some or appointments are filling less quickly.

Even in Dane County, Public Health Madison & Dane County COVID-19 Vaccine Deputy Tess Ellens said they’re starting to see demand level off for the first time.

“Every week up to this week, we’ve not had any problems filling appointments,” Ellens said. “This is the first week we’re starting to see it is getting a little harder to start filling appointments.”

As of Tuesday, PHMDC had thousands of available appointments in the coming days. Those interested can register directly here.

“In Wisconsin, we’re vaccinating really quickly, which is very exciting,” Ellens said. “But that also means demand will eventually start to dry up.”

She said that will call for a bigger push to bring the vaccine to people such as mobile clinics, rather than people seeking it out.

“It is very important that we all get the vaccine,” Kharbat said. “It doesn’t really matter when it comes to which county we live or work.”

That’s because the virus doesn’t care about county lines.

“In the end if we have 100% vaccine take-up in Iowa County and only 50% around the rest of the state, we didn’t do any good,” Hurlbert said. “We’re not all going to stay in Iowa County the rest of our lives.”

More information on Iowa County vaccine appointments can be found here.