Teachers, other groups eligible for vaccine on Mar. 1; health departments concerned about low supply

NOW: Teachers, other groups eligible for vaccine on Mar. 1; health departments concerned about low supply

GREENFIELD, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Hundreds of thousands more people become eligible to get the vaccine in Wisconsin next month, but local health departments say they don't have the supply to vaccinate them.

In late January, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced the following groups would be eligible for the vaccine on March 1 in this priority order: teachers and child care workers; people enrolled in Medicaid long-term care programs; some public-facing essential workers like 911 operators and grocery store workers; non-frontline health care essential personnel; and facility staff and residents in congregate living settings, such as inmates.

"Milwaukee County public health leaders have raised concerns with state leadership. Specifically our concerns are about the availability of vaccine in light of expanding eligible groups," said Darren Rausch, health officer and director of the Greenfield Health Department.

Rausch said many departments are still vaccinating people 65 and older.

"If we expand eligibility without the availability of vaccine, we would anticipate and expect a result in frustration, mistrust and confusion from those residents who are eligible and looking for a vaccine but unable to access (it)," Rausch said.

DHS said Wisconsin has vaccinated more than 40 percent of people 65 and older. The department expects to have more than half of this age group vaccinated by March 1. The state will continue to receive its federal allocation of doses plus vaccine doses provided for the Walgreens Federal Pharmacy Program, according to spokesperson Elizabeth Goodsitt.

A number of health departments and clinics in the Milwaukee area have reported they did not get the vaccine doses they requested this week.

"We're preparing for March 1st, but we probably won't be ready to take on many new groups as we're trying to get through our older adults as well," said Laura Stephens, interim health officer for the Wauwatosa Health Department.

Stephens said she doesn't yet know how many doses to expect from the state in March.

"Depending on what that looks like, we'll try to schedule some clinics, specifically for educators, if we have the supply available. Otherwise, as we get supply throughout March, we'll schedule and put them through as fast as we can," she said.

Rob Gundermann, president and CEO of the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging and Health Groups, said he understands health departments' concerns, but there's a reason DHS is expanding eligibility.

"I think it's important that we have flexibility that if you're in an area where you have gotten through that 65 population that you can move into the next group as fast as possible and I think that's that's what the department is trying to do," Gundermann said.

Gundermann said his biggest concern is not enough supply is getting into the state.

"I really think Wisconsin is doing the best job they can, and the question now is how fast can the federal government get us vaccines. I think we're in a position to roll them out much faster if we can get them here," Gundermann said.

Goodsitt, a communications specialist with DHS, also said in a statement: "While some areas of the state will be ahead of others based on population, it is important to have enough eligible residents to vaccinate to continue our pace of vaccine administration. If too few folks are eligible, vaccine administration will stall and vaccine will sit on shelves. Being able to move to the next eligibility group allows local vaccinators to continue moving forward with vaccine efforts to meet statewide goals of increasing community immunity and continuing to keep vaccines going into arms quickly. Everyone that is eligible now will still be eligible. It’s important to note, we have followed this pattern before. We added the group of people 65+ when we only had about 50% of health care workers and long-term care groups. Over the last week, we have made progress in all three groups. We continue to emphasize that people in group 1A and people 65 years or older remain a high priority for vaccination. People in the newly eligible groups will not all receive vaccine immediately and we once again, request people’s patience as they move through the vaccine line over the next month or two."

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