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How Wisconsin turned around its lagging vaccination program - and buoyed a Biden health pick


Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Watch via AP

Lisa Xiong, a staff member at The Hmong Institute, gets her first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic at Life Center in Madison, Wis., on March 9, 2021. "It wasn't as bad as I thought," she said after Laurel Losenegger, a volunteer nurse with the Benevolent Specialists Project, delivered the shot.

When President Biden announced in January that he would make Wisconsin's top health official his No. 2 at the Department of Health and Human Services, the state seemed like a poor model for the nation's most crucial public health priority: fighting the pandemic.

Wisconsin had just come through a surge more intense than New York City's, and it ranked near the bottom of states in bringing a first dose of vaccine to its residents. Only about a third of doses sent to the state had been administered. The grim numbers galvanized Republicans in Wisconsin to take aim at a familiar target, state health secretary-designate Andrea Palm, whom they had refused to confirm since 2019, denying her symbolic authority even as the coronavirus gripped the state.

Her elevation to Biden's team provided an opportunity to nationalize their campaign against Democratic-led pandemic policies.


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