Now that Fitchburgers aged 65 and older can receive their free COVID-19 vaccine, one pharmacy owner said he has a list of “thousands” waiting to get their shots.

Thad Schumacher, owner of Fitchburg Family Pharmacy, told the Star that he and staff have set a goal to administer 300 immunizations a week to keep up with the increasing demand. They work 12-hour days, Schumacher said, giving vaccines every five minutes through a curbside service, which the Common Council has since approved to expand.

The state Department of Health Services deemed people 65 years of age and older eligible for shots on Jan. 25. In Wisconsin, 87% of people who have died from COVID-19 fall within that age group, state Deputy Health Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said in a media briefing Friday, Jan. 29.

While a majority of the patients Schumcher vaccinates are healthcare providers who became eligible Dec. 14, 2020, he advised those waiting they need only remain calm.

“The vaccinators are going to vaccinate until there are no more shots,” Schumacher said. “We will get to everyone.”

Around the U.S., people deemed eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine are experiencing a similar excitement, with 42,417,617 people receiving shots as of Feb. 9, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of that same day, Wisconsin ranked 11th in the nation and first out of all Midwest states, with 10.3% of its population having been given at least the first immunization, according to data compiled by the New York Times.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Wisconsin is now leading the nation in the average number of COVID-19 vaccine shots being administered daily — a massive increase that comes as the Evers administration is expanding its rollout to include free vaccination clinics across the state, according to a Feb. 8 article.

Dane County is faring better than the state average – as of Tuesday, Feb. 10, 11.4% of people had received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

That’s evidenced by how Fitchburg most public safety officials, and one assisted living facility’s employees and residents have already acquired shots. Police, fire and emergency medical services staff became eligible to receive the vaccine Jan. 18.

Fitchburg Police Department deputy chief Matt Laha told the Star officers “had the fortunate opportunity to have providers reach out to us proactively” in the weeks before their eligibility date. He estimated that a large majority of the department has received an immunization — officers could get them from Dane County Emergency Management, Fitchburg Family Pharmacy and other providers.

Lindsay Jacobson, Sylvan Crossings Assisted Living and Memory Care assistant director, told the Star that all residents and employees have been offered the vaccine.

“They’ve all taken it very well,” she said. “There hasn’t been any side effects or anything. It was a smooth process.”

Vaccine rollout still has its delays, challenges and limitations, Schumacher said. But the immunization has minimal side effects, he added – Schumacher had a sore arm when he received his.

Fitchburg Family Pharmacy staff currently offers the Pfizer shot, which is stored frozen. Schumacher said once a vaccine vial is thawed, there’s a two-hour time window to either administer it, or put it back in storage before expiration.

Even so, the Pfizer shot goes bad after five days, Schumacher said. To remedy that, he and staff give patients their immunizations before the vaccine turns four days old.

Another slowdown is the lack of criterion for who in the 65 and older age bracket should receive a vaccine first, Schumacher said. Laha, in a separate interview, said that age group should have been higher on the shot priority list in general.

“We haven’t figured out a way to strategize who is more or less vulnerable to COVID-19,” Schumacher said.

He said he gets emails daily where patients detail why they should be put at the “top of the list” for a COVID-19 immunization.

More caveats with the vaccine roll-out for Schumacher include 12-hour workdays, and that the state needs to more specifically define how distribution will work in the coming months, Schumacher said, even though it is “doing a great job.”

Wisconsin currently has over 1,200 COVID-19 eligible vaccination sites, according to the DHS.

Those include healthcare providers, pharmacies, local health departments, places of employment, and community-based vaccination sites, according to the DHS.

And for now, most healthcare providers are contacting people 65 and older, who became eligible on Jan. 25, according to health provider websites. In Madison, UW Health is notifying people 71 and older, and those 65 and older who are Black, Hispanic or Native American – all ethnicities that have been harder hit by the pandemic and have been sickened at least at twice the rate of people who are white, according to data from Public Health Madison and Dane County.

SSM Health is focusing on 75 and older, and UnityPoint Health-Meriter has told its patients, “we will notify you,” when appropriate.

Both Laha and Schumacher advised that even though a possible end to the pandemic is on the horizon, mask wearing and social distancing remains the best way to prevent COVID-19’s spread.

“People should keep in mind that this whole pandemic, as well as the response at which the vaccine was developed is something the world has never seen before,” Laha said. “But we all need to still recognize those health safety protocols.”

Email Emilie Heidemann at emilie.heidemann@wcinet.com or follow her on Twitter at @HeidemannEmilie. Reporters Mackenzie Krumme and Neal Patten contributed to this story.

Emilie Heidemann joined Unified Newspaper Group in 2018, where she serves as the community and business editor for four publications, as well as a quarterly magazine. Emilie covers the Village of Oregon and Fitchburg community beat.