The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh took a few moments to show off its new COVID-19 vaccination center Friday as state leaders imagined a time beyond the coronavirus pandemic.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and UW System President Tommy Thompson joined a small number of medical professionals, elected officials, nursing students and members of the media at the Culver Family Welcome Center on the UW Oshkosh campus—site of the community vaccination center.
“This is a happy day,” Evers said as he congratulated the UW System campuses for rolling out vaccine to the community during a tour of the UWO facility.
Evers applauded the way the UW System gets involved in problem solving and said extraordinary work has already been done. He said though a lot more vaccine is needed in Wisconsin, he is confident citizens who want the vaccine will get it in the months ahead.
At the conclusion of his remarks, Evers signed a bill into law that allows pharmacy technicians to administer the vaccination.
UW leading the way
Thompson, who was at the Culver center in the fall when it opened as a community testing center, called it a wonderful day to come together and thank the people who are working tirelessly at overcoming the pandemic.
“I met (last year) with the governor’s office and health and human services and we came up with a way the University could be at the forefront in testing,” he said, noting the testing effort helped pull thousands of citizens infected with COVID-19 out of the mainstream so others didn’t get sick.
Now Thompson wants the System to be “front and center,” assisting in vaccinations that can help Wisconsin get past the pandemic.
“This is Wisconsin,” he said. “We’re going to beat this disease and come back stronger and better than ever.”
He is encouraged by the numbers of citizens taking advantage of vaccination—now ranking in the top 10 in the U.S. for average number of shots administered daily.
The Culver vaccination center is equipped to give up to 1,000 shots per day, but the number is just over 200 per day currently, due to vaccine supply issues.
Chancellor Andrew Leavitt expressed appreciation to Thompson and Evers for their “confidence, investment and support” of the work to keep campuses, employees, students and communities safe through the pandemic.
Leavitt thanked Dr. John Newman, president of Aurora Medical Center in Oshkosh, for the guidance and expertise setting up the center; and Dr. Brian Temple for helping communities understand and embrace the life-saving necessity of vaccination. He also credited the Winnebago County Health Department, director Doug Gieryn and his team for helping UWO develop testing and vaccination centers for the benefit of the greater Oshkosh community.
“I also want to thank the students, staff and faculty of UWO,” Leavitt said. “They have helped this institution become a model for safe college in a pandemic and we are honestly here today because of their willingness to comply with smart safety measures and adapt as we moved through the last year.”
Leavitt said they have shown how to turn the Wisconsin Idea into “Wisconsin action,” noting the UW is first to step forward when a community call is made for help.
Answering the call
Thompson, in a release this week, wrote the UW System has taken extraordinary steps to help Wisconsin combat the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have administered about 250,000 free COVID-19 tests in our university communities,” he said. “We have deployed nursing, pharmacy, and other health care students to hospitals, clinics, and vaccination sites. We have worked with state and local health officials to establish vaccination sites on our campuses. We have done all of this because when Wisconsin faces a problem, the University of Wisconsin System will step up to help solve it.”
Temple, chair of infection prevention with Advocate Aurora Health, spoke about the importance of vaccinations for minority populations. He discussed an equitable approach to vaccine distribution, prioritizing those at greatest risk and how Advocate Aurora is addressing vaccine hesitancy. He believes all who want the vaccine will have it in the coming months. He is focused on gaining trust with communities of color.
“It’s our way out of the pandemic,” he said.
Gieryn, Winnebago County public health officer, highlighted the county health department’s ongoing efforts to combat COVID-19 and urged people to keep getting tested and stay vigilant.
“Hang on while we get this vaccine rolling out,” he said. “We will have much more vaccine in the coming weeks.”
Gieryn thanked the University for helping to reach as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.
“The light is just before us,” he said. “We have just a few months to go.”
Kim Langolf, director of risk and sponsored programs at UWO, helped guide the facility tour, filling Evers, Thompson and others in on the specifics of the testing and vaccination programs she oversees.
Rodolfo Tapia said he was excited for his parents, Oshkosh residents Genaro Tapia, 72, and Imelda Olvera, 75, to receive their first dose of the vaccine. The two were among the first to receive a shot on Friday.
Rodolfo said his parents were very sick in November and he hopes the vaccine provides them protection against the virus.
Oshkosh resident James Herzig said he had a hard time being patient as he waited and hoped for a chance at the vaccine.
“We missed last Christmas,” he said. “I wish I could get both shots at once.”
Meantime, family members of Jorge Gonzalez were grateful the 96-year-old was getting his first dose.
“Just to have him vaccinated is a great thing,” said Rachel Ven-Ismail, who was helping Gonzalez through the process.
UWO senior nursing student Chloe Jostad, of Oconomowoc, administered vaccine last week at the Sunnyview Expo Center.
“People were very grateful and thankful,” she said.
The vaccination center on the Oshkosh campus is at 625 Pearl Ave. The site is a partnership between UWO, Advocate Aurora Health of Oshkosh and Winnebago County Public Health Department. For more information, visit the UWO vaccination website.