Records reveal Wisconsinites’ biggest concerns about vaccine providers and how DHS handled those complaints

Published: May. 4, 2021 at 7:34 PM CDT
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Wis. (WSAW) - As the COVID-19 vaccine distribution unfolded around the world, country, and state, the systems were not perfect. 7 Investigates obtained records showing Wisconsinites’ concerns and how the Wisconsin Department of Health Services handled them.

Between the end of January through mid-April, there were about 60 complaints or concerns about vaccine providers. Members of DHS’ COVID-19 task force handled those complaints. Most of the concerns were found to be misunderstandings on the part of the vaccinators, some were just rumors.

While all people in Wisconsin are now eligible, before that time, about 35% of those concerns were about providers administering vaccines to people who were not eligible, most of which related to school employees getting vaccinated before March 1. Taskforce members reached out to those providers and determined they either confused the eligibility criteria or dates, the accusation was not true, there was a misunderstanding on the provider or the reporter, or vaccinators were giving extra doses to available people as to not waste open vaccine.

Providers were allowed to give extra doses to available people even if they were not eligible and that was determined to have occurred in places like Lincoln and Portage counties after receiving complaints.

In Shawano, the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe vaccinated teachers in the Shawano School District because it has several students who are tribal members. Tribes legally had the flexibility to make eligibility determinations, though most followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations but were able to move to the next eligible groups more quickly.

About 17% of complaints were regarding receiving a second shot, which was a problem reported numerous times in the north central region. There were several issues for people who got vaccinated at Walgreens. People reported that sometimes the pharmacy did not have available second appointments or that they could not guarantee that they would have the same brand available as a person’s first shot. Several Walgreens were reported for a trend of vaccinating ineligible populations, either using the reason of extra available dose or for a technical reason.

Part of the issue, according to the DHS complaints outreach tracker spreadsheet, was that Walgreens had “a glitch with their system this weekend (the last weekend in April) that caused issues with people not being able to automatically schedule their second dose appointment when making their first and they had assured us that has been resolved. They have also indicated that they are doing second dose catch ups on weekends for anyone that experienced this issue.”

In another instance, a former nursing-home resident was having a difficult time getting her second dose after leaving the nursing home because she got her first dose during the phase 1A eligibility, but was no longer in an eligible group after she left. She ultimately got her second dose scheduled.

Another 10% of complaints were about patients being charged for their vaccination. Those patients ultimately were refunded because while insurance companies can be charged for administration fees, patients cannot be charged for administration or the vaccine.

Other complaints dealt with concerns about how some vaccine clinics were run. One family practice doctor in Cedarburg was concerned about how another clinic it was partnering with was handling the storage and administration of vaccines. The doctor alleged a batch of vials was taken home and stored in a personal refrigerator, as well as at another business next door to the clinic. The doctor also reported that people were not being monitored for 15-30 minutes as required after receiving the vaccine and patients received old influenza consent forms rather than COVID-19 vaccine consent forms. The doctor also admitted to being asked to administer the vaccine without the proper required training.

Taskforce members did an on-site visit and talked with the clinic leaders. Those individuals answered questions about those concerns, but according to the record, they were unable to provide specifics or elaborate. According to the outreach tracker spreadsheet, another visit was scheduled and additional supports and training were conducted remotely.

DHS only withheld vaccine shipments for one provider in Thiensville in Ozaukee County. A local pharmacy was reported for understaffing clinics to the point where patients could not safely be served. Some patients reported only one person running the entire clinic, people were not monitored after receiving the vaccine, and their vaccination cards were not filled out properly. It was also reported that the clinic was billing patients a $50 service fee to conduct in-home services. DHS confirmed these reports and vaccine supply was no longer withheld after the issues were fixed and the pharmacy staff received more training.

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