MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Everyone over age 65 in Wisconsin will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine starting on Monday, a group of 700,000 people that is more expansive than originally envisioned to be next in line for the shot, the state Department of Health Services said Tuesday.
The department also cautioned that the speed of vaccinations depends on how much vaccine the state receives from the federal government. Wisconsin receives about 70,000 doses of first-dose vaccine each week; at that pace, it could take months to vaccinate the new group.
"Wisconsin systems and operations are ready to vaccinate more people," said Andrea Palm, the secretary of the state Department of Health Services, who is leaving her post on Wednesday. "The amount of vaccine we get from the federal government will determine how quickly we can get these groups vaccinated."
People over age 65 will be able to get vaccinated through their health care provider, pharmacy, or local or tribal public health agency. Those being vaccinated directly through their health care provider will typically be contacted to schedule an appointment, the state health department said.
There are more than 1,200 vaccination providers registered to deliver the vaccine in the state. Community clinics including nine mobile clinics staffed by the Wisconsin National Guard are also offering shots. Leaders of the Wisconsin Hospital Association and Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin on Tuesday praised making the vaccine eligible to everyone over 65 and pledged to do all they can to vaccinate people quickly.
Also eligible for vaccinations are front-line health care workers, those in long-term care facilities, police and fire personnel in being eligible for the vaccine in Wisconsin. People over 65 may get vaccinated sooner if their provider has already inoculated those in the previously eligible population, the health department said.
Vaccinating everyone over 65 is in line with federal guidelines, but breaks with a state panel's recommendations last week that the next group include those over age 70 along with teachers, child care workers, mink farmers, prisoners and others who live in congregate settings. The state health department said the full scope of who will be in the next round for the vaccine will be determined later this week.
"Older adults have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and prioritizing this population will help save lives," Palm said. The announcement came the day before Palm was resigning to become the deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Palm and Gov. Tony Evers' administration has been criticized by Republican lawmakers, who say the rollout is unorganized, slow and too bureaucratic. Grocery store employees have also objected to not being included in the next round of vaccination plans, as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended.
Tim Metcalfe owns three Metcalfe's Market stores, one in Wauwatosa and two in Madison, wrote an open letter to the committee that plans Wisconsin's vaccination phases, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
"Grocery workers have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic and are as critical to our food supply as farmers. While our company takes every safety precaution possible for our team, the reality is that this team has been exposed to members of the public every day and put at increased risk of infection for nearly a year now."
Evers has repeatedly argued that the state is limited by its supply of vaccine from the federal government, while urging President Donald Trump's administration to send more doses.
President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to send 100 million doses of the vaccine in his first 100 days in office.
To date, the coronavirus has killed 5,470 people and nearly 523,000 have tested positive. Evers planned to continue the statewide mask mandate, which first took effect in August and expires Tuesday, for an additional two months. The Wisconsin Supreme Court is weighing a challenge to the mask order brought by Jere Fabick, a major Republican donor, board member and policy advisor for The Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank, and president of a multi-state Caterpillar dealer.
Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sbauerAP