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Capital City Sunday: Nursing homes prepare for vaccinations, COVID-19 liability, and UW tuition freeze

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Coronavirus vaccines continue to be administered to frontline health care workers, and next up on the list are long term caregivers and residents. 

Once the Moderna vaccine arrives, state health officials say they expect to see 100,000 doses by the end of the month, which will be prioritized to long term care facilities.

The news comes as COVID-19 ravages nursing homes nationwide and in Wisconsin. 

Divine Nursing and Rehabilitation in Columbia County is one of the lucky ones with only a few staff members testing positive since the beginning of the pandemic.

Administrator Katie Casey said even though they have not experienced a COVID-19 outbreak, that doesn’t mean they haven’t experienced trying times, calling the vaccine arrival perfect timing. 

“I don’t think we could be any more excited that this is finally going to start the process to end this virus,” said Casey.

Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities partnered with pharmacies to help administer the vaccine when it arrives. Divine Nursing and Rehabilitation contracts with Walgreens and Casey said the process has been efficient and expects to vaccinate staff and residents all in one day. 

“It will be busy, but well worth it,” she said. “We’re off to a good start in our conversations with Walgreens.”

Casey said they won’t require staff and residents to be vaccinated but hopes through education she won’t have too many who decide to opt-out.

“If they decide to not get it then the same policy will go into play just like the flu season requiring staff to wear masks.”

Vaccine Liability 

Tens of thousands of doses of the Pfizer vaccine are making their way across the state and into the arms of health care works.

So far, some have reported minor and temporary side effects but in instances across the country, some have had allergic reactions. 

Now attorneys are warning Wisconsinites if something happens, you don't have many legal options to pursue. That’s because drug manufacturers can’t be held liable if someone has a bad experience. 

“There is very little recourse in terms of the manufacturers of the vaccine because they have immunity,” Attorney Jerome Konkel with Groth Law Firm said.

There are federal government protections for vaccine manufacturers from individual lawsuits, but if someone suffers a severe side effect such as an allergic reaction, or even death, there are options.

There are two federal programs for people to file a claim if they can prove they suffered injuries related to a vaccine. Before the pandemic, these types of claims were usually successful and resulted in some sort of payout, said Konkel. However, there is only one program centered around the COVID-19 vaccine, which Konel said is harder to pursue. 

“It’s quite limited, it will only pay for uncovered medical expenses, lost wages and death benefits, those are the only things the program will pay for,” he said.

Groth Law Firm said their goal is to advise people on what they should be watching out for after getting vaccinated as the vast majority of any reactions are minor.

Health care providers and the FDA said side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine are minimal and injuries would have to be severe, lasting about six months, in order to file a claim with the federal government, said Konkel. 

Falling behind: The state of Wisconsin's public universities and colleges

Since 2013, tuition for in-state undergraduate students at UW campuses has been frozen.

It's helped protect students from the rising costs of college tuition, but a new report by the Wisconsin Policy Forum found this incentive for students is threatening the UW's ability to be competitive against other universities. 

“The tuition freeze is a clear part of that, but you also see stagnant state funding, enrollment declines that are greater than other states nationally … all things that were adding up before COVID-19,” said Jason Stein, Research Director for the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

Wisconsin has been falling behind Illinois, Michigan, Iowa and Minnesota for more than 20 years when it comes to state and local funding and tuition revenue, the report says. 

The coronavirus also has made matters worse because campus activity is down at all Wisconsin schools adding to the funding woes. 

 The UW System estimated in June a net loss of $158.6 million after factoring in lost revenues, higher costs, spending cuts and federal aid. 

In October, UW-Madison said it was extending employee furloughs and pay cuts to respond to an unprecedented $320 million budget impact in 2020 and 2021 due to increased costs and lower revenues from tuition, research funding, and self-financing units such as athletics and the Wisconsin Union, the report reads. 

There are a host of solutions to help the UW System recover such as finding new revenue sources, raising tuition and boosting enrollment by expanding online classes, Stein said.

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Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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