Feds call for expanded vaccine eligibility to speed up rollout, Wisconsin reviewing next steps

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- As the federal government expands guidelines for vaccine eligibility, state officials are reviewing how to move forward.

“It’s time to move on to the next phase of the vaccination campaign,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in what was likely the final Operation Warp Speed news conference of the Trump administration.

Azar said the federal government is calling on states to expand eligibility to people 65 and over as well as people under the age of 65 with certain health conditions. In order to accomplish that, the feds are releasing more doses of COVID-19 vaccines to states. Officials also said the federal government will prioritize allocation of doses to states using up their supply already on hand, in an effort to incentivize more vaccinations.

“Every vaccine dose that is sitting in a warehouse rather than going into an arm could mean one more life lost or one more hospital bed occupied,” Azar said.

State officials welcomed the news.

“We are excited that Wisconsin will be allocated additional COVID-19 vaccine by the federal government,” DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said in a statement to CBS 58. “Our goal, alongside our partners in health care, pharmacies and local public health is to vaccinate as many Wisconsinites as quickly and safely as possible. We know we cannot do this alone and our partners are up to this task.”

A DHS official also told CBS 58 the state will seek clarity from the federal government about the latest guidance and initiative going forward. Some questions that remain include if this is a one time increase or if it will be part of the weekly allocation to Wisconsin.

Milwaukee County officials said in a media briefing they will wait on state recommendations before moving forward on any eligibility expansion, as they have throughout the process.

“I would anticipate this would go in a similar direction,” Dr. Ben Weston said. Weston is an associate professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Director of Medical Services for the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management. “The state will weigh in, they’ll have their medical experts, vaccine experts, their ethicists, their public health experts, weigh in and decide what is going to work best for our state, with the end goal of getting vaccine to people as fast as possible.”

Meanwhile, the state is set to move forward with its own eligibility expansion starting Jan. 18. That is when police officers and firefighters are set to begin receiving the vaccine.

“Over the last several months we have had officers who have been exposed to covid,” West Allis Police Department Deputy Chief Christopher Marks told CBS 58.

Marks said the department of about 160 employees has not yet received specifics about when and how they’ll receive the vaccine. The department is working with the West Allis Health Department to coordinate.

Marks said the vaccine will offer relief for the department’s officers and other employees.

“They engage with citizens on a daily basis and in a variety of different environments and risk exposure on a daily basis so we’re just happy we have the opportunity to provide this safeguard for our employees,” Marks said.

The Milwaukee Police Department said it too has not laid out specifics about how its officers and employees will receive the vaccine.

“MPD continues to work with the Milwaukee Health Department to determine the safest options for our members,” the department said in a statement to CBS 58. “We have not discussed any plans in regards to the COVID vaccine as it is only available to individuals that are in the 1A group at this time.”

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