Wisconsinites 16+ with certain medical conditions eligible for COVID vaccine March 29

NOW: Wisconsinites 16+ with certain medical conditions eligible for COVID vaccine March 29

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- The Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced Thursday, March 11 people with certain medical conditions will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine starting March 29.

“We are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Governor Tony Evers said during a media briefing Thursday. “We are ready to turn the corner we are ready to kick this pandemic to the curb and we are in a great position to do it.”

The state’s ability to expand eligibility is credited to an increase in supply. The new group is set to expand access for the vaccine to more than two million Wisconsinites.

“These are all people who are at-risk for the disease and we want to get them front in line before we open to the full population,” DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said.

DHS said it is not requiring vaccinators to ask for proof of medical condition, nor is it policing sub-prioritizing of the next group. Those issues will be up to vaccinators.

“Because of the sheer number of new people in this new expansion, health care providers may need to subprioritize,” Van Dijk said.

The announcement of the expanded eligibility was welcomed news to Hashim Zaibak, CEO of Hayat Pharamcy. Zaibak said he was glad to see at-risk populations included in the group.

Hayat has focused efforts on a walk-in vaccine distribution method, rather than one by appointment. It’s had success, though coming with its own challenges, like people needing patience when lines can be long on some days.

But Zaibak hopes providers focus on getting shots into arms and not spend time on subprioritizing the next group, something he worries can slow down the state’s vaccination efforts.

“I think this is a time when we should just focus on getting shots into as many arms as possible based on the guidelines. We can’t really do micromanaging of the guidelines,” Zaibak told CBS 58. “As providers we really should not have our own priorities based on what we think is more important.”

DHS said it anticipates being able to open vaccine eligibility to the entire general public above the age of 16 by May. That will depend on supply, but the department is optimistic about that timeline.

CBS 58 asked DHS leaders when the state could see the needed 80 percent or more of the population vaccinated in order to reach a high and safe level of community immunity.

DHS said at its projected pace, June is an attainable goal to hit that number, but realistically, challenges of vaccine hesitancy may push that date further into the summer.

The next eligibility group includes individuals 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)

Due to the limited supply of vaccine and with this next eligible group likely adding more than 2 million individuals in Wisconsin eligible for the vaccine, providers may need to prioritize individuals within this population who are at higher risk. These include individuals with severe medical conditions, those with two or more conditions, older adults, or those living in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Every community is different, but everyone in this group will be eligible for the vaccine.

“All three COVID-19 vaccines available are incredibly safe and effective at preventing infection, serious illness, and death. These vaccines are saving lives. That is why we are committed to ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to get protected against the virus,” said DHS Interim Secretary Karen Timberlake. “We are continuing to accelerate our pace, getting more shots in arms each week. Together with our vaccinator partners across the state, we are helping those at higher risk of exposure or more vulnerable to severe infection get a COVID-19 vaccine.”

Depending on vaccine supply, DHS anticipates that Wisconsin will be able to expand eligibility sometime in May to include all individuals age 16 and older. DHS will continue to monitor vaccination coverage statewide and partner with vaccine providers in order to provide an updated vaccination timeline for the general public.

Individuals with the outlined medical conditions can access vaccine through a variety of options, including community-based clinics, health care providers, Local and Tribal Health Departments, and pharmacies. Wisconsinites with a primary care provider may hear directly from their provider. Visit the Wisconsin COVID-19 vaccine options page or call the toll free vaccine hotline at 1-844-684-1064 to learn more.

In the meantime, it is important to double-down on ways to stop the spread of COVID-19 due to emerging strains of the virus. Masking up, staying physically distant, washing hands, and getting tested continue to be crucial tools for protecting ourselves and our communities against COVID-19. Individuals who are fully vaccinated can review recently released post-vaccination guidance on the DHS website.

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