How DHS determined who is entering and who is not eligible for vaccination

MADISON, Wis. – It is difficult to determine which groups to prioritize for the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, but also to wait.

Like many during the pandemic, Steve Gorton has faced a well-trodden path.

“We have been in this process for a year,” Gorton said. “We are caught up in the movie Groundhog Day. We keep repeating every day. “

He has been trapped primarily at his Fitchburg home during the pandemic, becoming well acquainted with Zoom, as have many others with underlying health concerns.

“It just increases the anxiety because of my underlying medical conditions,” said Karen Kos of Sauk City. “I’m just afraid to go out.”

Kos said it has become more difficult to wait for the vaccine as time has passed.

“I’m chewing a bit, because you know it’s coming,” he said.

Kos and Gorton are part of the newest eligible group in Phase 1C: about two million people with underlying medical conditions.

“The ultimate goal is to get the vaccine into the arms as quickly as possible,” Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, said in a media call. “We are at a point where the vaccine is not as scarce as before, and we are at a turning point, so we want to put vaccines in arms.”

In the beginning, when the supply was much more limited, the queue had to be narrower. Wisconsin started with Phase 1A, including frontline healthcare workers. Then Phase 1B was opened to those 65 and older and some occupations, including teachers and foodservice workers.

Now, with Phase 1C, the focus is on those with high-risk conditions.

‘They’re looking forward to this’: DHS prioritizes high-risk medical conditions

“They need it. Are at risk. They are looking forward to this, ”said Willems Van Dijk. “Let’s be good citizens and neighbors of Wisconsin and let people get vaccinated.”

He said the DHS included conditions that the CDC indicates put people at higher risk for serious coronavirus illnesses, such as cancer, heart conditions and obesity, along with those that could, such as asthma, high blood pressure and being overweight.

DHS data shows that approximately 64% of the state’s adult population has a BMI high enough to be considered overweight or obese.

“We were not worried about putting more people in that group,” said Willems Van Dijk. “We want to get the vaccine into our arms as quickly as possible.”

SDMAC Phase 1C decision ‘informed by work’

According to DHS, the decision was based in part on information from the State Disaster and Medical Advisory Committee, which met to advise state health officials on vaccine eligibility decisions.

Meeting documents indicate that the SDMAC vaccines subcommittee has not met since January when it was asked to suspend activities until further notice. The SDMAC only presented formal recommendations for Phase 1B.

“In each eligibility group above, the SDMAC noted that vaccinators may consider prioritizing individuals with health status characteristics from the CDC list,” said a DHS statement. “Additionally, the SDMAC Vaccine Distribution Subcommittee consistently noted that the next eligible group would include individuals ages 16 to 64 with medical conditions that increase the risk of severe COVID-19.”

In their winter deliberations, SDMAC members also considered certain occupational groups for future eligibility, including those in the manufacturing industry. The CDC recommends putting essential workers in Phase 1C, including those in transportation and logistics, food service, housing construction and finance, information technology, communications, energy, law, media, and public safety.

Some workers from those groups are already eligible in Wisconsin in other phases, including certain transportation workers like bus drivers, but DHS does not include any additional work groups in the state’s Phase 1C.

“We just feel that continuing to create eligibility by occupational group is confusing for everyone,” said Willems Van Dijk. “Many of those employees are now eligible due to chronic health problems.”

That includes people like Kos, whose niece helped her schedule a vaccination appointment.

“I can’t even describe it,” Kos said. “I’m already sleeping better.”

Gorton has also made the first stop on the road to protection, getting his first shot Tuesday.

“It was great,” Gorton said. “Just a little push. It is not a problem at all. “

He hopes that means he and his wife can go off the beaten track and into a grocery store or restaurant in the coming months.

“Maybe even travel a bit,” Gorton said.

All eligible before May 1

Regardless of where someone is in line, Willems Van Dijk said the bottom line is that all adults will be eligible soon.

DHS will make everyone 16 and older eligible by May 1, and possibly sooner, depending on how quickly people get vaccinated and the amount of supply that arrives.

“We continue to assess this and we will see where we are,” said Willems Van Dijk. “Once we have confidence in the supply of the vaccine that we are receiving and the timing of the vaccine, we will make the decision and announce it.”

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