By Acting FEMA Region 5 Administrator Kevin M. Sligh Sr.
It’s about accessibility, confidence and equity.
FEMA’s focus for the last three months has been on reaching Wisconsin’s underserved communities with the COVID-19 vaccine, while working in coordination with our partners to build trust that the vaccine is a safe and effective method to combat the virus and ultimately the pandemic.
As an African American man with several co-morbidities, who watched multiple family members suffer the effects of COVID-19, getting the vaccine was an important choice and then a priority for me. The risks of contracting COVID-19—threatening my life and those of the ones I love—was not an option. I took control of my destiny and my health by getting the vaccine, and you should too. Along with our whole community partners, the federal government is committed to helping Wisconsinites do just that.
In early April, FEMA established a community vaccination site at the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee. The site choice was driven by local input and public health data such as the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index, other census data and localized considerations such as the existing deployment of resources and feedback from state public health experts. Simply getting shots into arms isn’t the driving factor for these decisions: equal and meaningful access to programs and services is of utmost importance to everything we do.
As part of the establishment of this center, FEMA provides an additional 3,000 daily doses to Wisconsin in excess of the state’s regular allotment. By providing this separate allotment, FEMA is adding significant capacity and volume to the city’s existing network of vaccination clinics and increasing availability to those individuals who need the vaccine the most. These doses are provided with the specific goal of not just increasing the number of people vaccinated, but to focus on those communities of color hit hardest by the pandemic. The Wisconsin Center is intended to accomplish that goal. Located in a densely populated section of the city near multiple public transportation options—including 10 bus lines—this center allows for ease of access for areas with a high risk of COVID-19 exposure and infection.
Additionally, potential barriers that may have existed with scheduling appointments online or by phone have been removed: anyone who wants a vaccine can walk into this site any time during its hours of operation, no appointment needed.
In order to further drive towards an equitable delivery of vaccine in Milwaukee, the city is also hosting multiple mobile events to increase availability and bring the vaccine to where people live, work and congregate. Specifically, they are focusing on high social vulnerability areas and those with the lowest vaccination rates in an attempt to protect those populations most affected by COVID-19. Beyond Milwaukee, FEMA is also supporting sites in Madison and Eau Claire, and has provided more than $50 million to expand and augment vaccination distribution efforts across the state.
I’m confident that through the partnership of the state of Wisconsin, the city of Milwaukee and FEMA, the COVID-19 vaccine is accessible to Wisconsin; now, it’s important to recognize it is also safe and effective. Millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history.
This past year has been devastating and difficult for our nation. The battle against this virus has made us all weary—but there is hope. Hope that we can very soon put this pandemic behind us and move forward. The key to that brighter future is the COVID-19 vaccine.