MADISON (WKOW) — State health officials announced Thursday more than two million people with pre-existing health conditions will become eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Wisconsin on March 29.
The new groups were announced in a press release from the Department of Health Services (DHS) Thursday.
“Wisconsin continues to be a national leader in vaccinations and we are excited to open up eligibility to more Wisconsinites,” Gov. Tony Evers said in a written statement. “I know this past year has been rough for everyone and I want to thank folks for stepping up and doing their part to protect themselves and loved ones from COVID-19.”
The new groups who qualify for the vaccine are all those who are 16 and over with the following medical conditions:
- Asthma (moderate-to-severe)
- Cerebrovascular disease (affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain)
- Chronic kidney disease
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- Cystic fibrosis
- Down syndrome
- Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
- Hypertension or high blood pressure
- Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant, blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune weakening medicines
- Liver disease
- Neurologic conditions, such as dementia
- Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30-39 kg/m2)
- Overweight (BMI of 25-29 kg/m2)
- Pulmonary fibrosis (having damaged or scarred lung tissues)
- Severe Obesity (BMI 40 kg/m2 or more)
- Sickle cell disease
- Type 1 or 2 diabetes mellitus
- Thalassemia (a type of blood disorder)
“All three COVID-19 vaccines available are incredibly safe and effective at preventing infection, serious illness, and death,” said DHS Interim Secretary Karen Timberlake. “These vaccines are saving lives.”
DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said the state could open up vaccine eligibility to many more Wisconsinites because it is expecting to received hundreds of thousands of additional doses per week.
“We’ve seen a significant increase in vaccine over the last two months and will continue to see that increase, according to our federal partners,” Van Dijk said. “That means we don’t have to do this continuous staging of group by group by group.”
The state has administered more than 200,000 doses in each of the last five weeks. Van Dijk said in a press call Thursday that number would increase to 400,000-500,000 doses per week.
As for the challenge of vaccinating so many people, and categorizing a wide array of health issues, DHS officials said Thursday they recommended vaccinators create their own sub-tiers of groups among those with pre-existing conditions.
Mo Kharbat, Vice President of Pharmacy Services for SSM Health, said earlier in the week that health system was already exploring that idea, mentioning the idea of starting with those 55 and older as an example.
Rest of public May have to wait
Van Dijk said, given the current vaccine supply projections, after enough people in Group 1C received the vaccine, the rest of the general public would become eligible in May.
“Everyone’s gonna be eligible in May and that’s the biggest message I want everyone to hear at this point in time,” Van Dijk said.
Van Dijk said employers should start planning now for vaccination clinics to inoculate their employees. It will be part of a larger effort to ensure vaccinators across the state are able to handle a supply DHS officials expect will soon match, or even exceed, demand.
“We need all hands on deck ’cause this is going to be the point where there’s lots of vaccine and lots of demand and we need lots of vaccinators administering it,” Van Dijk said.
Thursday’s announcement brought disappointment for those in a number of fields deemed “essential” by the Centers for Disease Control.
CDC recommendations put the manufacturing sector in Phase 1B, along with grocery store employees and transit workers.
“Unlike some businesses, the hard-working and dedicated ‘shop floor’ employees of manufacturing companies haven’t been able to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kurt Bauer, President of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce in a statement. “This is simply unfair.”
The CDC recommendations included in Phase 1C people who work in transportation and logistics, housing construction, and communications.
All of those workers will become eligible with the rest of the general public in May.
“If you’re lucky enough to not have one of these conditions, you will be lucky enough to be included in May,” Van Dijk said. “I know we’re being encouraging about the vaccine supply but we still don’t have 5.8 million vaccines or even 4.6 million vaccines, which is all the adults.”