State’s COVID-19 vaccine supply rises, and eligibility list to expand soon

By: - March 12, 2021 6:03 am
A Covid-19 vaccine vial and a syringe (Getty Images)

A Covid-19 vaccine vial and a syringe (Getty Images)

Wisconsin’s list of who is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine will grow by more than 2 million at the end of March, when people with certain medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to the coronavirus are offered the vaccine.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) announced Thursday that the new group of vaccine recipients, who become eligible starting March 29, include people who have cancer, any of several lung-related ailments and conditions, high blood pressure or some heart conditions. Several other conditions are also on the list.

More than 1.1 million Wisconsin residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, including more than 647,000 — more than 10% of the state’s population — who have completed the vaccine process. Two of the three vaccines in use in the state, from Pfizer and Moderna, require two doses, while a third, from Johnson & Johnson, is provided in a single dose.

About 65% of the state’s residents who are 65 or older have received at least one dose, and one-third of the people in that age group have completed the vaccine, said DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk at a media briefing Thursday. As millions more people become eligible for the vaccine, the department is expecting increased shipments of vaccine doses from the federal government, she said.

The state is receiving about 160,000 doses each week currently, Van Dijk said. (Second doses of the two-dose vaccines are not included in that number.) Shipments are expected to increase in April and May to 200,000 to 250,000 first doses a week, or 400,000 to 500,000 doses weekly when both first and second doses are counted.

Van Dijk said that DHS might have enough vaccine doses coming in by May to set aside the priority lists and offer shots to all adult residents. Several hours after the briefing, in an address to the nation Thursday evening, President Joe Biden said he would direct states to open the vaccine to everyone starting May 1.

Vaccines have continued to reach a larger share of the white population than other racial and ethnic groups in the state. About 6.7% of Black Wisconsin residents have received at least a first dose, compared with 18.7% of white residents, according to data posted by DHS. About 6.1% of Hispanic residents have received at least a first dose.

While those numbers have improved somewhat, “we still have way too far to go,” Van Dijk said Thursday. DHS has been working with federally funded health clinics in Milwaukee that serve largely Hispanic and African American communities to address those disparities.

Distributing the vaccine around the state has continued to produce challenges, she added, with vaccinators in some communities who have available vaccine supplies not seeing immediate demand while people in other communities complain of being unable to find a place to get the shot.

“Both of those things happen in our state right now,” Van Dijk said. “What we are really hopeful for, in the months of April and May and June, is [that] we’ll have enough vaccine coming into the state where everybody will have an opportunity to get an appointment.”

In another COVID-19-related development Thursday, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) reported that its most recent four-week tally of cases and deaths from the coronavirus in nursing homes showed a continued decline in Wisconsin, both among residents and employees.

The advocacy group maintains a dashboard that uses data that nursing homes report to the federal government. COVID-19 deaths in the four-week period ending Feb. 14 fell to 0.5 deaths per 100 residents, down from 1.36 per 100 residents in the previous four-week period. New cases among residents fell to 1.5 per 100 residents, down from 5.1 previously. The rate of new cases among employees also fell to one-third of what it was the previous month, AARP reported.

Despite those improvements, staff shortages as well as shortages of personal protective equipment, although slightly better in the most recent period, remain “a significant problem,” the organization reported.


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary.