Second grade teacher Lauren Mau teaches at Ronald Reagan Elementary School on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. Mau is among the school staff who help make schools run during a pandemic. (Photo: Angela Peterson / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
State health officials say they are ready to move forward with the second half of Phase 1B next week — and educators will be first in line.
Now that nearly half of Wisconsinites ages 65 and up have received their first dose of vaccine, “we are definitely moving forward with March 1,” DHS deputy secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said at a press briefing Tuesday.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is encouraging providers to vaccinate people in Phase 1B based on a specific order established last month when the department finalized which groups would be eligible for the phase. The groups, in priority order, are:
- Education and child care workers
- People in Medicaid long-term care programs such as IRIS and Family Care
- Public-facing essential workers, such as 911 operators, public transit workers, utility workers and food supply chain workers, including agricultural workers and retail food workers
- Non-frontline health care personnel
- People in congregate living, such as those in mental health institutions or people who are incarcerated
- Mink husbandry workers
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Some advocates have questioned how groups were prioritized. Disability Rights Wisconsin attorney Mitchell Hagopian, who sits on the DHS volunteer vaccine advisory committee, said state health officials ranked the sub-groups in Phase 1B without input from the committee.
He said he was “disappointed” by the department’s decision to roll out vaccinations in a tiered manner.
“In effect, DHS has crowded out the Family Care, IRIS and other vulnerable populations,” Hagopian said. “(Disability Rights Wisconsin’s) position is that all eligible populations should have equal access to the vaccine from the date they become eligible. The only preferences should be related to assuring adequate supply to underserved communities.”
At the press briefing Tuesday, Willems Van Dijk said it is necessary to get educators vaccinated as quickly as possible.
“This is a group that is essential,” Willems Van Dijk said. “We want our kids in school … and we know teachers work every day with a population that is not able to be vaccinated because of their age.
“The important thing for people to remember is a shot in the arm is another person protected in the state,” she added. “We will all get our turn.”
Willems Van Dijk also emphasized that people who are 65 or older who have not yet received their vaccine will not be crowded out, noting that the federal allotment of vaccines to Wisconsin has increased from roughly 70,000 doses per week to 115,000 doses per week.
“I understand if you’re in the half of folks 65 and older who have not yet received your vaccine that you may be anxious about whether you’re ever going to get one, and I can assure you you will,” Willems Van Dijk said. “There is more vaccine coming.”
Track COVID and the vaccine in Wisconsin: See the latest data on cases, deaths and how may doses have been administered
Teachers at the front of the line
At least one school district has already begun scheduling teachers and staff for vaccination appointments.
Green Bay Area Public School District spokesperson Lori Blakeslee said the district worked with Prevea Health to schedule vaccination appointments for teachers starting next Monday and Tuesday. Staff were able to sign up for appointments starting Monday evening, Blakeslee said.
Meanwhile, Milwaukee Public Schools staff have not received formal communication from administration about vaccination plans as of Tuesday, said Angela Harris, chair of the Black Educators Caucus MKE.
Harris, who teaches first grade at Dr. King Jr. Elementary, said she plans to call her doctor on Monday to schedule an appointment.
“You would hope they would have some sort of plan in place for teachers to get vaccines before a conversation about us coming back to school in person,” Harris said.
Milwaukee Public Schools spokesperson Shahree Douglas did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Jeff Fleming, spokesperson for the City of Milwaukee Health Department, said local health officials have not finalized logistical plans for offering vaccines.
Fleming said there will likely be specific resources dedicated to vaccinating school staff, which could include special mobile vaccination sites or dedicated vaccination hours set aside for school staff. It’s not clear when the plans will be finalized, Fleming said.
After educators and childcare workers, frail adults with disabilities in Medicaid long-term care programs like IRIS and Family Care will be next in line. State health officials said they will work closely with the managed care organizations that provide care to the IRIS and Family Care programs to be accountable for identifying people who need vaccine.
After that comes public-facing essential workers like transit workers and grocery store employees.
People in congregate living, such as those in mental health institutions and people in prison, are last on the list next to mink farm workers.
Wisconsin Department of Corrections spokesperson John Beard directed questions about timing vaccinations for inmates to DHS, but said in an email that the department “is prepared to vaccinate persons in our care per DHS criteria and vaccine availability.”
Department of Corrections health care and correctional staff are already eligible and are in the process of being vaccinated, Beard added.
Phase 1C still not finalized
Who will qualify for the next round of vaccinations, known as Phase 1C, has yet to be finalized.
Past discussions have focused mostly on people with underlying medical conditions who are more likely to become severely ill from COVID-19.
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Frontline health care workers, police and fire personnel and people 65 and up are already eligible for the vaccine.
The State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee, a volunteer group of 16 public health experts, has been on hiatus for several weeks because state health officials said they needed time to understand how the Biden administration might change the federal vaccination strategy.
Willems Van Dijk said the department is waiting for further recommendations on phasing from the federal government before resuming the meetings.
“We’re working on getting through this beginning of Phase 1B,” Willems Van Dijk said. “Then we’ll be working on considering who will be in 1C.”
Contact Daphne Chen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @daphnechen_. Journal Sentinel reporter Rory Linnane also contributed to this report.
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