Grocers, teachers, first responders? Subcommittee discusses who could be next to get COVID-19 shots

NOW: Grocers, teachers, first responders? Subcommittee discusses who could be next to get COVID-19 shots

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- It will take a few months to vaccinate Wisconsin’s health care workers and nursing home residents.

In the meantime, the State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee's Vaccine Distribution Subcommittee is considering who should be in the second tier to receive the COVID-19 shots, the category known as Phase 1b.

Several industries have lobbied to be included. The medical professionals and advocates on the subcommittee must now decide who deserves the vaccine most.

"Everybody, I think, who works can claim at some point, 'I'm essential. The work that I'm doing is an essential piece of work,'" said Dr. Thomas Harter, director of the Department of Bioethics and Humanities at Gundersen Health System.

Subcommittee members said they have a challenging job ahead but they're glad a panel of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has done some of the work for them. The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, has recommended that frontline essential workers and people 75 and older be in Phase 1b.

"As we're beginning to think about who ought to be in that 1b, we really need to think about who's most at risk," Harter said.

The CDC panel has defined frontline essential workers as workers who fall into one of these categories: first responders (firefighters, police), education (teachers, support staff, daycare), food and agriculture, manufacturing, corrections workers, U.S. Postal service workers, public transit workers and grocery store workers.

"People have to eat," said Brandon Scholz, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Grocers Association. "Whether it's moms and infants or kids or high school or parents or seniors, no one's come up with (a way to) get by without eating.

Scholz called it a "no brainer" that grocery store workers be considered essential. 

"These people are at work every day. Nobody in the grocery industry from a retail side works at home. They are all there checking, stocking, bagging," Scholz said.

The Wisconsin Education Association Council has been lobbying for teachers to be included in Phase 1b in part because children under 16 can't be immunized yet.

"Our staff are really concerned about their own lives. But we’re also concerned about our kids’ families because they’re carriers. They take it home and give it to mom or dad or grandma and grandpa," said Ron Martin, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council.

Martin said he believes vaccines aren't a "solve-all" but they are part of the solution for getting life back to normal.

"By being able to provide the vaccine as early as we possibly can for educators, that's going to be one of the assurances to make sure that our buildings and our schools are open and kids can be in school," Martin said.

ACIP also recommended that people 75 and older be in Phase 1b. The subcommittee discussed the recommendation for much of its meeting, but members were divided on whether this age group is more important than essential workers.

"I was really glad to hear you guys talk about the 75 and older group, but I would even bring that down to 70. When you look at the deaths in Wisconsin, the 70 and older group -- We're talking 9.7 percent of the population comprises 79 percent of the deaths," said Rob Gundermann, president and CEO of the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging and Health Groups.

"Yes, age is definitely a risk factor and that's been accounted for, but I think we also need to think about exposure risk ... Being out with the public is a higher risk than somebody like me who might be otherwise higher risk but can sit behind a computer all day," said Ann Lewandowski, co-chair of the subcommittee and founder of the Wisconsin Immunization Neighborhood.

The vaccine subcommittee is scheduled to meet again in January in effort to finalize its Phase 1b recommendations.

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