Why Wisconsin is prioritizing certain medical conditions like obesity, cancer and diabetes for the vaccine

NOW: Why Wisconsin is prioritizing certain medical conditions like obesity, cancer and diabetes for the vaccine

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Gov. Tony Evers announced on Friday, March 12 all adults in Wisconsin will be eligible for the vaccine by May 1. People with certain medical conditions will be eligible even sooner.

CBS 58 is taking a closer look at why certain conditions are on the list.

Two million more people in Wisconsin become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine on March 29. The next priority group includes people who are 16 years or older with more than a dozen medical conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, pregnancy and cancer.

Barbara Poepping counts it a "blessing" to be an 8-year survivor of pancreatic cancer.

"I do have a sister that passed away from it and two first cousins, so it's kind of a familial thing," said Poepping, who lives in Greendale.

She wants to stay healthy, so she believes it's important to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

"If my system is a little bit immunosuppressed, it's going to give it a little boost, kick it in and make it work better, and I think that that's a bonus," Poepping said.

Having cancer currently increases someone's risk of severe illness from COVID-19. At this time, it is not known whether having a history of cancer increases someone's risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The more of those risk factors that you collect as a person, the more your risk goes up," said Dr. Jeff Pothof, chief quality officer of UW Health.

Data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services shows 67 percent of Wisconsin adults are overweight or obese.

"It does make sense to include some measure of obesity as we think about who we should vaccinate because it's clear that those folks who are obese don't do as well if they get COVID-19," Pothof said.

Pothof said the higher someone's body mass index is, the higher the risk. A BMI of 25 kg/m2 or higher qualifies someone for the vaccine, if they're at least 16 years old. Calculate your BMI here.

"I think if people actually calculated their BMI, they would be somewhat surprised that they may fall into the overweight or obese category, when they don't really think of themselves (and) their friends don't think of them as being obese," Pothof said.

In November, the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office analyzed COVID-19 deaths in Milwaukee County and found diabetes and hypertension were the most common known co-morbidities reported in the COVID-19 deaths. 

Among all the COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., 40 percent of them are in people with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.

The full list eligible on March 29 includes people age 16 and over with the following medical conditions:

  • Asthma (moderate-to-severe)
  • Cancer
  • 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)
  • Pregnancy
  • 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)
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