By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
The fact that the vulnerable communities in Milwaukee have been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic is nothing new. The inequities in health care and resource distribution made it almost inevitable that people living in some of the poorest neighborhoods would suffer the most.
When vaccine distribution began, it was disheartening but not surprising that those communities were initially overlooked. However, that is now changing.
Last week, the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County announced that they were making a concerted effort to make vaccine distribution more equitable. Individuals with chronic health conditions and persons living in the highest rated ZIP codes on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Social Vulnerability Index are now eligible to receive the vaccine starting Monday, March 22. These ZIP codes include 53204, 53205, 53206, 53209, 53215, 53216, 53218, 53223, 53224 and 53233.
With that announcement, came the news that North Division High School, 1011 W. Center St., and South Division High School, 1515 W. Lapham Blvd., will be operating as mass walk-in vaccination clinics. Both sites are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley held a press conference outside North Division High School on Monday, March 22.“We want people to know that this is the time,” Crowley said. “If you, your loved ones, family, friends or neighbors is looking to get vaccinated, let them know they can come to North or South Division. This is a walk-in clinic; no appointments are necessary.”
Anyone 18 and older can receive the vaccine, and 16-years-old are eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine or Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Whichever shot a person can receive is the best shot to get, he said.
There are no strings attached, he said. Individuals don’t need to prove they have a chronic illness or proof of residency to receive the vaccine; it’s an honor system, he said.
“We want as many people to take advantage of this as possible,” Crowley said, adding that the overarching goal is herd immunity.
During the press conference, people could be seen getting in line. Crowley said he hopes that residents in the ZIP codes feel encouraged to get the vaccine when they see others lining up.
“We are doing this in the spirit of equity,” he said. “We have seen the disparities growing and who is getting the vaccination and who is not. This is just one step we are taking to make some of our must vulnerable residents in the historically underserved communities that we have in Milwaukee are getting access to this vaccination.”
In an additional effort to encourage Milwaukeeans to receive the vaccine, Crowley along with Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson and Common Council President Cavalier Johnson invited members of the media to their vaccination appointment.
The three elected officials received their first dose of the vaccine at the Kosciuszki Community Center, 2201 S. 7th St. on Tuesday, March 23. According to Crowley, the center administers about 200 doses a day.
Crowley explained it was important to them to publicize their vaccination so that people know it is safe.
“We want folks to know that you need to visit milwaukee.gov/covidvax or you can visit covidmke.com in order to sign up for your appointment,” Crowley said following his vaccination. “Just yesterday, we did open up two sites particularly at North Division and South Division High School so more people can get vaccinated.”
The vaccines will help Milwaukee reach a level of normalcy, he said.
“We have to protect our community members as best we can,” Nicholson said. “We need as many people as possible to get that vaccine so we can move towards making Milwaukee County being the healthiest in the state.” Everybody wants to get back to a sense of normalcy, Johnson said, and that means everyone needs to pitch in and do their part and that means getting the vaccine.
“These shots have been proven to be safe, to be effective and to mitigate the chances that someone’s going to contract the COVID virus,” Johnson said. “All of us have a part to play in this, and together we can crush COVID.”