THU AM News: Wisconsin, distributors prepare for COVID-19 vaccine; Natural Resources Board approves PFAS regulations

— Pharmaceutical wholesale distributors are preparing to meet the unique needs of each state in distributing a COVID-19 vaccine.

Wisconsin and other states are playing a unique role in determining vaccine administration, according to Matthew DiLoreto, vice president of government affairs for the Healthcare Distribution Alliance. 

HDA is a national trade organization that represents about 35 pharmaceutical wholesale distributors including McKesson Corporation, which the federal government has contracted with to distribute the early stages of the vaccine. 

Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm said in a recent health briefing the federal government will also distribute syringes and other equipment to administer the vaccine. The feds will bear the front-end cost, she added.

“The federal government is not controlling all aspects of how these vaccines are distributed. They are actually giving a lot of authority to individual states,” DiLoreto said in an interview. “Most state plans have a lot in common, but the granular details of how a vaccine will be administered and where it will be administered in Wisconsin will be unique to Wisconsin.”

Wisconsin’s priority populations include health care workers and vulnerable populations, such as those living in nursing homes, said Palm. Phase two of DHS’ plan to expand to other critical populations is “to be determined.” A federal advisory panel and state advisory committee are deliberating over that guidance, she added.

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— Time, availability and systemic injustice alter the ethics of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a panel of ethicists.

Unprecedented numbers of people and organizations working toward developing a COVID-19 vaccine reduces the timeline for completion, said Jonathan Kimmelman, director of biomedical ethics at McGill University. The average timeline for vaccine approval is just under four and a half years.

“There’s a lot more money behind COVID-19 vaccine development,” Kimmelman said in a Morgridge Institute for Research webinar Tuesday.

But once a vaccine is approved, health officials may have to prioritize who receives the vaccine first depending on their risk factors, according to Pilar Ossorio, professor of law and bioethics at UW-Madison.

“Not everybody who wants to can be vaccinated immediately,” Ossorio said. “We may respond less quickly to those who have lower risk.”

Health care workers, for example, are at high risk of contracting COVID-19.

“Most of the plans put health care workers at or near the very beginning of people who would receive the vaccine,” Ossorio said. “Their role as providers is crucial for creating benefit and minimizing harm across the society.”

One factor potentially impacting the vaccine development timeline is a distrust of medical institutions in communities of color. Though racial minorities are more impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, they are less likely to participate in vaccine trials.

“People are treated poorly in their health care systems,” Ossorio said. “There is racism in our health care systems.”

In a long history of scientific trials, ethical analysis is limited, according to Seema Shah, associate director of the Lurie Children’s Hospital bioethics program.

“The burden is on institutions to recognize that they need to be trustworthy,” Shah said.

— The Department of Natural Resources has a proposed Green Tier – Tier 2 contract with Madison Gas and Electric Company.

This contract is an expansion of MGE’s Green Tier participation. The program enables environmental improvements while allowing for some regulatory flexibility. 

MGE is requesting flexibility in its annual compliance audit schedule, allowing for all operations under the scope of the agreement to be audited over a three-year cycle as defined in the proposed contract. 

In return, MGE’s proposed contract includes conducting a risk review of its environmental response plan, adding environmental emergencies to its hazards response process, removing and replacing PCB-contaminated transformers, adding electric and hybrid vehicles and converting to LED lighting at its facilities.

“MGE takes a proactive approach to advancing the culture and continual improvement of environmental and sustainability practices throughout our organization,” said Jeff Jaeckels, MGE’s director of safety, sustainability and environmental affairs. “We look forward to this expansion of our longtime participation in the DNR’s Green Tier program to all of our operations, further building on our environmental commitment.”

The DNR is requesting public comments on the proposed Green Tier – Tier 2 contract through Nov. 27.

— A divided state Natural Resources Board OK’d an emergency rule to regulate the containment and discharge of substances polluted with firefighting foam containing PFAS.

Gov. Tony Evers last year signed into law a bill banning the use of such firefighting foams other than for emergency purposes or testing operations with proper containment measures. And while the ban on such foams went into effect in September, Board Chair Fred Prehn said the statute left containment regulations “very open to interpretation.”

The agency had originally been tasked with passing its emergency rule ahead of the timeline for the statute to take effect. But board members in August tabled the emergency rule for further review after receiving heavy criticism from business lobbying groups and JCRAR co-chairs Rep. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan, and Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater.

The rule between August and yesterday changed its interpretation of foam with intentionally added PFAS from including diluted and concentrated forms to “foam-contaminated material.”

It also established a table of different PFAS “action levels” based on the pollutants’ nanograms per liter that the agency could then use to test if containment measures are working.

Prehn, an appointee of former GOP Gov. Scott Walker, expressed concern that DNR’s new rule may overstep its authority and later be struck down by the GOP-controlled Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules. 

The rule passed 5-2, with another Walker appointee joining in opposition.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are chemicals found in industrial and everyday products, most notably in firefighting foam. They do not break down easily in the environment and are linked to several diseases and cancers in humans.

Steve Risotto, senior director of the American Chemistry Council, during the rule’s comment period yesterday urged board members to strike the table from its draft, calling it an “arbitrary one-size-fits-all” requirement on companies designing treatment systems.

But environmental groups and residents in the Marinette area, one of the state’s areas hit hardest by PFAS groundwater pollution, urged members to pass the regulation as-is with the action level table in order to ensure there’s some kind of standard when checking if industries are actually following the law.

— Ireland’s largest premium dairy cooperative is expanding its North American division with a $10 million investment in a production facility in Hilbert, south of Green Bay. 

Ornua plans to add 22,000 square feet of warehousing and cooling infrastructure to its already state-of-the-art cheesemaking operation, according to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. 

The expansion is expected to increase the plant’s production by 30 percent and is expected to be completed in February 2021. 

Ornua Ingredients North America specializes in producing cheese products for major food manufacturing and food service customers. This latest investment comes after record growth in 2019. 

“The capacity and flexibility enabled by this latest investment will allow us to deliver the scale and breadth of product portfolio required to maintain our position as the leading partner in our customers’ ambitious growth plans,” said Rick Pedersen, president of Ornua Ingredients North America.

The company’s two cheesemaking facilities in Hilbert and Byron, Minn., employ more than 265 people. 

— The Wisconsin Badgers’ game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers has been canceled after 12 members of the football program tested positive for coronavirus in the past five days.

The team will pause all team-related activities for at least seven days due to the cases, according to a UW Athletics release.  

As of Wednesday morning, six student athletes and six staff members, including head coach Paul Chryst, have tested positive for COVID-19.

Ahead of Wisconsin’s Friday home game against Illinois, Deputy Athletic Director Chris McIntosh told a virtual alumni event that COVID-19 outbreaks among student athletes were extremely unlikely due to the daily rapid turnaround testing capabilities.

He said there’s no room for a further postponement if players contract COVID-19. If multiple players at the same position were to contract the virus at the same time, he called it a “roster management disaster.”

The Big Ten requires players to sit out games for a minimum of 21 days if they test positive for COVID-19. If an athlete contracts the virus, they could miss three of the eight regular-season games. 

“It’s not like it’s 100 percent in their control, but like all of us, they can minimize their chances of contracting COVID,” McIntosh said. “The incentive is a pretty powerful one for them. They’ve been working, most of them, all their lives for this moment.”

The joint decision to pause football activities and cancel Saturday’s game was made by Athletic Director Barry Alvarez and UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, in consultation with the Big Ten Conference.

Saturday’s canceled game will not be rescheduled. The team’s next scheduled game is at home against Purdue on Nov. 7.

— Wisconsin reported 3,815 new COVID-19 cases and 45 deaths. 

Crawford County reported its first death yesterday, leaving just two counties in Wisconsin that haven’t reported any COVID-19 deaths: Menominee and Pepin.

Yesterday’s death toll brings the state’s total to 1,897 people who have died from the virus. 

The counties leading the state’s death toll are Milwaukee (582), Waukesha (120), Racine (113), Brown (97) and Kenosha (80). 

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— Counties predominantly in northeast Wisconsin are seeing the highest infection rates at nearly twice the state average.

Menominee County leads the state with its infection rate of 69.4 cases per 1,000 people. In seven days, Menominee County added 52 COVID-19 cases. The county has a cumulative total of 304 confirmed cases. 

The county started to see consecutive days of record single-day case counts in mid-September. Menominee County has had over 59 percent of its cases in the month of October. 

The second-highest infection rate in the state is Shawano County at 59.2 cases per 1,000 people. Its case number was 2,441, an increase of 348 cases in seven days. Brown County’s infection rate is 59.1 cases per 1,000 people; it added 1,732 cases in one week for a cumulative 15,377 confirmed cases.

Oconto County has an infection rate of 55.7 cases per 1,000 people, with 237 new cases in seven days for a cumulative 2,114 confirmed cases. The fifth-highest infection rate in the state is Calumet County at 52.3 cases per 1,000 people; its cases number 2,694, an increase of 79 cases in one week.

The state’s average infection ratio is 36.3 cases per 1,000 people.

Milwaukee, Brown, Dane, Waukesha and Outagamie counties have the most confirmed coronavirus cases in the state.


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