EAU CLAIRE — After announcing last week that people 65 and older are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the state health department said Tuesday that teachers, grocery store workers, some essential workers and other groups will be able to get the vaccine, tentatively starting March 1.

“These are difficult decisions and we do not take this decision lightly,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, of the state’s much-watched decision of which state residents next to prioritize.

After seniors, next in line will be about 600,000 Wisconsin residents. They are teachers and child care workers, people in Medicaid long-term programs, some public-facing essential workers, non-front-line health care workers, and residents and staff of congregate living settings.

The state detailed who will be eligible within those categories:

  • Teachers and child care workers: All staff in child care, public and private schools, virtual learning support and community learning center programs; all staff in Boys and Girls Clubs and YMCAs; all staff in preschool and Head Start through K-12 settings; and faculty and staff in higher education who have direct contact with students.
  • Some public-facing essential workers: Grocery store, gas station and convenience store workers; 911 operators; utility and communications infrastructure workers; public transit workers; food supply chain workers (including farm owners and other farm employees); food production workers; and people working in hunger relief.
  • Non-front-line health care workers: Essential health care workers who aren’t involved in direct patient care, but are essential for health system infrastructure, according to the state, including workers in public health, emergency management, cyber security, health care critical supply chain functions and support roles.
  • Residents and staff of congregate living settings: Incarcerated people in jails, prisons and mental health institutes; residents of employer-based housing; residents of housing for the elderly or people with disabilities; shelter residents; and transitional housing residents.
  • People in Medicaid long-term programs: Members of Family Care and Family Care Partnership and participants in IRIS will be eligible. Participants in Wisconsin’s Children’s Long-Term Support Waiver and Katie Beckett programs are also eligible if they meet age requirements for the vaccine (16 and older).

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services said Tuesday that they’re putting teachers and the other groups next in line “due to an increased risk of exposure or vulnerability to COVID-19.”

State officials: We need more doses

The state is getting about 70,000 doses per week from the federal government. To get 80% of the state’s population vaccinated by the end of June, Wisconsin will need three times what it’s getting weekly now, Van Dijk said Tuesday in a call with reporters.

State officials have repeatedly said over the last month that Wisconsin needs more doses to speed up its distribution.

The state has been allocated about 846,000 doses, and has administered about 362,000 of those doses as of Tuesday.

In response to criticism about the discrepancy between those two numbers, Van Dijk has pointed to roughly 160,000 of the state’s doses that have been allocated to a federal program involving CVS and Walgreens. Another 168,000 doses are in transit to vaccinators around the state, according to DHS.

As of Tuesday, CVS and Walgreens facilities in Wisconsin have only distributed less than half — about 41,000 — of the doses they’ve been allocated, Van Dijk said; the pharmacies couldn’t begin vaccinating assisted living facilities until they had saved up enough doses in late January, she added.

The state is taking back some assisted living facilities from the pharmacy program, and will ask independent pharmacies and health departments to vaccinate them instead, Van Dijk said.

“To give a sense of our vaccinator capacity, last week … our vaccinators requested over double what we were able to give them,” Van Dijk said.

As of this week, front-line health care workers; people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities; EMS, fire and police workers; and people 65 and older are able to schedule appointments to get the vaccine.

For the next group that includes teachers and some essential workers, March 1 is a tentative goal. The March time frame depends on vaccine supply from the federal government, according to DHS.

If the federal government ups its shipments of vaccine doses to Wisconsin, those groups may be eligible before March 1, and if shipments decrease, that goal may be moved back.

The state health department is aiming for March 1 because that’s when it expects to have vaccinated about 50% of the state’s 65-plus-year-old population, Van Dijk said.

“We won’t be done with people 65 and older on March 1, but we’ll be far enough along that we feel it would be likely, assuming a steady vaccine supply, to be reasonable to add others into the group,” she said Tuesday.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers in a news release urged people to keep wearing masks and limiting gatherings with others.

“We’re going to keep getting shots in arms as quickly as possible and as soon we have vaccines available,” the governor said in a news release.

More details on vaccine eligibility and information on where to get vaccinated can be found at www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/vaccine-about.htm.

Contact: 715-833-9206, sarah.seifert@ecpc.com, @sarahaseifert on Twitter

Sarah Seifert is the L-T's education and health reporter. She has worked as a journalist in the Chippewa Valley since 2017 and joined the L-T in 2019. Get in touch at sarah.seifert@ecpc.com or on Twitter @sarahaseifert.