People ages 16 and older with certain medical conditions will now be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine beginning on Monday, a week earlier than previously expected.
Gov. Tony Evers' office said last week that the eligibility date would be moved from March 29 to March 22, due to the availability of vaccine supply and vaccine appointments.
"I'm this much closer to getting to hug my granddaughters. My kids live out of state and I haven't been able to see them for a year so that's my number one," said Kathy Vance, who fell into this latest group and got vaccinated at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Monday.
"It feels great. It feels like a huge relief," said Tad Gospodarek, who also got his first shot at UWM.
"Unfortunately, many times folks that have pre-existing conditions have also difficulties with disproportionate health outcomes period. So making sure this site and other sites in the Milwaukee area are doing their great work is critically important," said Gov. Tony Evers during a press conference at UWM's vaccine clinic.
"It's an honor system so we're asking them and they're signing an attestation form," said Dimmy Sokhal, a clinical pharmacist at Hayat Pharmacy.
Hayat Pharmacy has trained more vaccinators and added more administrative staff to help get through this latest group.
Amanda Fordyce, who is a few months into her pregnancy, said after researching and consulting with doctors she was ready to get her shot. She was able to schedule an appointment with Hayat Pharmacy.
"I was really concerned about getting COVID. Pregnant people are really at risk of getting severely ill when they get the virus so I've been double masking on this entire time and just staying home as much as I can," said Fordyce.
"I’m really excited to protect me and my baby with antibodies."
Susan Callanan and her daughter Mary said it was their body mass index that qualified them to get vaccines.
"Super excited. It really feels like a holiday almost," said Susan.
"I fall under the overweight condition which I'm working on," said Gospodarek.
He was relieved to get his shot, adding that one of his friends who is somewhat overweight was on a ventilator with COVID-19.
Evers said vaccine supply continues to be a limiting factor even as eligibility expands.
The medical conditions for those eligible are as follows:
- Asthma (moderate-to-severe)
- 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)
- 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)
Gov. Tony Evers said Wisconsin is preparing to turn the corner on the pandemic by massively expanding who’s eligible to get vaccinated.
“We are ready to kick this pandemic to the curb and we are in a great position to do it,” Evers said.
“It means a little bit of freedom,” said Elodie Ontala of Milwaukee.
Ontala was ecstatic to learn people like her who live with Sickle cell disease will be able to get the shot soon.
“It’s a little bit less scary knowing that the vaccine will add a layer of protection for someone like me who spent the last year inside,” she said.
Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder that affects 100,000 African-Americans in the United States. Ontala said she struggles with pain every day due to her illness.
“Because I already don’t have the oxygen in my body, I don’t have the strength in my body to fight something like the coronavirus,” she said.
Women who are pregnant and people who are considered overweight will also be eligible starting on March 29.
DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said people who qualify won’t need to provide proof of their medical condition to their vaccinator.
“Some vaccinators may take people at their word, others may want them to sign some simple form that attests that 'yes, I am a person who has one of these conditions,'” she said.
While DHS is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance for the qualifying medical conditions, the state is going against CDC advice for the rest of phase 1C.
The CDC recommends ‘other essential workers’ such as restaurant, gas station, construction workers, and many more industries be included. Willems Van Dijk said those workers will have to wait until May when the vaccine is expected to be available to everyone 16 and older.
“We still don’t have 5.8 million vaccines or even 4.6 million vaccines which is all the adults. So we still need to do a balancing of people most at risk with vaccine supply,” she said.
Those eligible currently in the 1B phase include teachers, child care workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers and people enrolled in Medicaid's long-term care programs.
Milwaukee County meanwhile says it is working hard to get vaccine doses to those who are eligible and want one. You can view the latest information on that effort here.
Front line essential workers, people in Medicaid long-term care programs, and non-front line essential health care employees who live or work in Milwaukee can now make appointments either online at milwaukee.gov/covidvax or by calling 414-286-6800.