By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Since the start of the pandemic, low-income and minority neighborhoods have been hit the hardest by coronavirus, especially in Milwaukee. In an effort to mitigate the spread, residents who live in the ZIP codes ranked highest on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Social Vulnerability Index will now be able to receive the vaccine.
During the weekly meeting on COVID-19 updates, Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley announced that residents who are 18 years and older and who live in certain county ZIP codes can now register for a vaccine appointment. The 10 ZIP codes are 53204, 53205, 53206, 53209, 53215, 53216, 53218, 53223, 53224 and 53233.
Persons with chronic health conditions are also eligible to receive the vaccine, regardless of their ZIP code. Individuals in these two groups can sign up for appointments now and will start receiving the vaccine on Monday, March 22.
The Social Vulnerability Index measures the “potential negative effects on communities caused by external stresses on human health. Such stresses include natural or human-caused disasters or disease outbreaks,” according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
“Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee have declared racism a public health crisis,” Crowley said. “And we recognize that structural racism causes chronic toxic stress which leads to other serious conditions that impact health of residents. We value the state for working with us to address the dramatic disparities we’re experiencing locally particularly when it comes down to equitable vaccine distribution.”
Crowley said that Milwaukeeans must continue to mind the three ‘W’s’: wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance. Avoid large gatherings and stay at home when possible, he said.
“We must continue to be vigilant in our own individual efforts to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe,” he said.
Mayor Tom Barrett explained that this past Monday, March 15, vaccine distribution at the Wisconsin Center was taken over by Department of Homeland Security’s FEMA. Because of FEMA’s presence at the Wisconsin Center, workers from the City of Milwaukee Health Department can be deployed to community sites.
“When we saw the model late last Thursday that showed the ZIP codes that had the highest challenges, we saw that those same ZIP codes had the lowest vaccination rate,” Barrett said. “The ZIP codes that were the most prosperous were getting the highest percentage of people vaccinated.”
In other words, he said, the people who need the vaccine the most were getting it the least. Upon that realization, Milwaukee city and county reached out to the state for help. The City of Milwaukee is working to establish mobile vaccination sites and is working with the state, churches and other organizations to do so.
“We’re making sure that we’re getting the vaccinations into the neighborhoods where we need them the most,” Barrett said.
Barrett added that testing sites are still operating for those seeking testing.
“We’ve talked about and have known since the weekly data became available that there are substantial racial and ethnic disparities in vaccine administration,” Dr. Ben Weston, associate professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin and director of medical services at the office of Milwaukee County Emergency Management, said.
Based on that information, the county, city and health departments have taken steps to narrow that gap, he said, including community clinics, targeting ads and ZIP code specific programs. Thanks to the EVE Model, which stands for Evaluating Vulnerability and Equity, these groups now have a better understanding on how stark the disparities are, Weston explained.
“The data from this model shows us very concerning findings,” Weston said. “However, in light of these finding were pleased to have worked with the state to address these trends.”
Systemic racism effects people socially and economically, but it also effects people’s health, he said.
To register for an appointment go to Milwaukee.gov/covidvax or covidmke.com. The vaccination sites include North Division High School, 1011 W. Center St., and South Division High School, 1515 W. Lapham Blvd. They will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. starting Monday, March 22 through Monday, April. The Wisconsin Center, 400 W. Wisconsin Ave., is also an option.