MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin's COVID-19 vaccination recipients now include people who are 65 and older as of Monday.
State health leaders have said this group alone includes about 700,000 people.
"I was very relieved to know that finally we're gonna have some protection," said Pat Ackerman. She was among the first to get a vaccine on Monday at Ascension Wisconsin's Franklin Hospital.
"It was the best shot I ever had, except for Manhattans," Pat joked.
She was just one of nearly 100 people expected to come through Monday's clinic. Organizers plan to ramp up the number of appointments in the days and weeks to come.
"I feel happy again that I've got it. I'm looking forward to getting the next one," said Andrew Barber, who came with his wife.
"You get a flu vaccine every year to protect yourself. Why wouldn't I want to get the vaccine to protect myself, my husband, our family, our neighbors, anybody else," said Grace Chirico.
After state health officials announced vaccines could go to people 65 years and older, Ascension Wisconsin's Operations Manager Dee Dee Kotarak spent all weekend making appointments.
"I had one patient that wasn't even speaking for a moment and I said, 'are you still there, ma'am?' And she said 'yes, I just can't believe my times come to get my first vaccine.' There's another man I had woken up. I called him at 9 in the morning Saturday and he said, 'this is just like a dream to me. I have to call you back because I just can't believe you're calling me,'" said Kotarak.
She was surprised at how emotional it was.
"It really was nice. A long weekend, I worked a lot of hours, but it was the most rewarding work I think I've ever done," Kotarak said.
Out of the 86 calls she made Kotarak said two declined to make an appointment.
Efforts to reach more people who fit into this group are ongoing.
Waukesha County leaders said they are working with providers on a community-based strategy.
Meanwhile, Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin expected to have about 15,000 first dose appointments scheduled by Monday afternoon. Their first clinics start on Tuesday.
As patients reiterated the feeling of relief, they also said they understood the vaccine is an extra layer of protection and would continue to be cautious.
One woman, who has not seen her son or grandkids in more than a year, remained optimistic.
"It's not gonna be forever, you know, so we do what we can in the meantime and stay safe and protect each other and hope and pray tomorrow will be better," said Grace.
The state's latest vaccine data shows 345,017 doses have been given so far, with the number of women outpacing men by more than double. Vaccinations were set to begin at assisted living facilities on Monday as well.