Friday, February 19, 2021

'Glitch' let Milwaukee workers jump to the head of the line for COVID-19 vaccines, regardless of age or health

From JSOnline:
Daniel Bice
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

How's this for a job perk for Milwaukee city workers?

Using the city's website for scheduling appointments, Milwaukee employees were able to jump to the head of the line to get a COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of their age, health or job title. 

It is not known how many public employees — or people claiming to be ones — took advantage of the benefit.

But sources said workers in various city agencies were scheduling appointments at the Wisconsin Center through the online platform as recently as Wednesday. The Journal Sentinel was contacted by city workers who thought it was unethical for them to get preferential status. 

This news comes the same week that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett met with President Joe Biden to ask for more vaccines for Milwaukee residents. 

"You have to be brain-dead not to realize there are greater needs in this community," said Ald. Mark Borkowski, a member of the Public Safety and Needs Committee. "Who would ever think this is OK? It's just ludicrous."

Jeff Fleming, spokesman for the Health Department, chalked up the problem to a "software glitch," which he said was discovered late Wednesday and fixed. The online scheduling system is run by Fleming's oft-criticized agency.

Fleming said the Health Department is making sure that no one gets a shot who is not eligible. It does not appear that applicants were even asked for proof they were city workers. 

"The Milwaukee Health Department is reviewing the scheduled appointments, and, as erroneous appointments are identified, they are being removed," Fleming said. "It is not immediately clear how many people exploited the signup software glitch."

Of course, they wouldn't be the first to do this. Bucks executive Alex Lasry, who announced this week that he's running for the U.S. Senate, got his coronavirus vaccine recently even though he's only 33

Under the eligibility requirements, frontline health care workers, nursing home and assisted living residents, police and fire personnel, and people ages 65 and older can get the vaccines.

The so-called glitch in the city's online signup system came to light at a time when Milwaukee officials were complaining about the need for more vaccines.

Milwaukee County ranks among the lowest counties in the state, with just about 8% of residents having received at least one dose of vaccine. There were about 3% in Milwaukee who have received both doses.

The numbers are even worse for Black and Latino residents. 

In Milwaukee County, less than 8% of the doses administered to county residents have gone to Black residents, even though they make up about 27% of the county's population. Just over 5% of the vaccine has gone to the county's Hispanic residents, who make up about 16% of the county's population

In an interview, Barrett said he learned Thursday morning of the problem with the online scheduling system. 

"As it was presented to me, there was a problem, but the problem was solved," said the fifth-term Democratic mayor. 

Barrett said he hopes to get to the bottom of what exactly happened, but he said he suspects it was human error. He described this as a minor problem that doesn't distract from his larger message.

"We've said from the outset that we want to be working to make sure those who are the most vulnerable are receiving the vaccinations first," said Barrett, who met with Biden in Milwaukee this week to talk about increasing the city's vaccine supply. "That's going to continue to be our outlook."

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