Reinvigorated Immunize Milwaukee Addresses COVID and Flu

As significant racial disparities persist in vaccination rates in Milwaukee County, Immunize Milwaukee, the multidisciplinary network of Milwaukee flu vaccinators and stakeholders representing more than 30 organizations, was reinvigorated in July 2020.

Initially launched in 2010, Immunize Milwaukee’s original focus was on early childhood immunizations, but in its new form, the group also supports on-the-ground COVID and flu vaccination efforts in Milwaukee County for all age groups.

“It was a critical time for the group to regather and refocus,” said Dr. Allison Kos, Chief Medical Officer at Progressive Community Health Centers and Immunize Milwaukee Co-chair. “Not only was COVID vaccination a priority, but there was substantial need to mitigate the effects the pandemic has had on decreased immunization rates more broadly.”

Sources: Flu (SE Wisconsin Region), COVID (Milwaukee County)

The purpose of Immunize Milwaukee is to exchange information and resources among Milwaukee County vaccinators and other stakeholders to administer vaccines efficiently, effectively, and safely for low-income (Medicaid and uninsured) populations – with a focus on racial and health equity. Additionally, the coalition works to identify and advance collective strategies to enhance public access, information, and education to increase vaccination rates for COVID, influenza, and other immunizations in adult and pediatric populations. 

Since its re-start, Immunize Milwaukee has met their 2020-2021 goal of obtaining a 2% increase in flu shots in Milwaukee County, and has shared learning on vaccine administration in the COVID era, shared staffing, vaccines, supplies and operational strategies across organizations, secured funding for events and communications, and promoted grant and educational opportunities.

“While there is much work to do, I’m encouraged by the impact our collective work has produced,” said Dr. Lyn Ranta, Co-chair of Immunize Milwaukee. “It reinforces the need for aligned, cross-sector strategies if we really want to move the needle, particularly among those populations most-marginalized.”

Through 2022, the coalition will continue to work on increasing COVID vaccination/booster rates and the co-administration of flu and COVID vaccination, and launch a new subgroup focusing on deferred childhood immunizations, which are currently down 15%-20% when compared to 2014-2019 rates.