Today the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) announced that adults over the age of 65 will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine beginning January 25. Currently, frontline health care workers, residents in long-term care facilities (nursing homes and assisted living facilities), and police and fire personnel are eligible. There are approximately 700,000 Wisconsinites who are 65 and older and Wisconsin currently receives around 70,000 first-dose vaccines per week from the federal government. It will take time to vaccinate this population in Wisconsin.
“Older adults have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and prioritizing this population will help save lives,” said DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm. “Wisconsin systems and operations are ready to vaccinate more people. The amount of vaccine we get from the federal government will determine how quickly we can get these groups vaccinated. Our partners in health care, pharmacies and local public health are ready and up to the task.”
Adults 65 and older have been recommended by the federal government and discussed by the Wisconsin State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee (SDMAC). COVID-19 has more severe consequences in older adults and prioritizing this population will help protect more Wisconsinites from serious illness and death. The full recommendations from SDMAC on the rest of 1B eligibility will be voted on later this week.
“Wisconsin hospitals and health systems have been the frontline of the battle against COVID-19 for the past 10 months and are eager to step up again and serve their patients and communities across Wisconsin. They have already administered thousands of vaccines and are anxious to move ahead with vaccinating their older, most at-risk patients,” said Wisconsin Hospital Association President and CEO Eric Borgerding. “This is an important next phase of vaccine ramp-up and we appreciate this decision by DHS and the steps it has taken to register more than 1,200 vaccinators, including hospitals, local public health departments, pharmacies, community clinics, and others who will all be needed in these next rounds of the fight.”
“Pharmacists across the state care deeply about public health and supporting our patients and we applaud the Department of Health Services' decision to expand eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine to patients aged 65 and older,” said Sarah Sorum, CEO of the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin. “Pharmacies are ready to vaccinate this population and other eligible populations, and we look forward to continuing our collaboration with DHS and local public health to ensure our most vulnerable Wisconsinites receive the vaccine.”
Wisconsinites who are 65 and older will be able to access the vaccine through their health care provider, pharmacy, or local or tribal public health agency. Vaccinating entities with any vaccine on hand can begin to vaccinate this population prior to January 25 if they have concluded the previously eligible populations. Those being vaccinated directly through their health care provider will typically be contacted to schedule an appointment by their health care provider.
In addition to health care providers, and pharmacies, local health departments across the state may have options for community clinics. Just last week, Governor Evers announced the state of Wisconsin will have nine mobile vaccine units that will work closely with local health departments to help address gaps in access.
“Expanding the age eligibility provides an opportunity for local and tribal health departments to advance community vaccination plans across the state,” said Annette Seibold, Florence County Health Officer and Wisconsin Association of Local Health Department Boards Co-President. “This is one step closer to our ultimate goal of healthier and safer communities. Our work will build on current and new partnerships, and we stand ready to move forward as quickly as vaccine supplies allow.”
Residents and staff at long-term care facilities will be vaccinated at their facilities through the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program, which is a federal public-private partnership. CVS and Walgreens pharmacies have been contracted to offer on-site COVID-19 vaccination services to residents and staff of nursing homes and assisted living facilities that participate in this program. Skilled nursing facilities began vaccinating on December 28, 2020. Assisted living facilities are set to begin January 25, 2021. In order to launch the program for nursing homes, DHS provided 56,900 doses of the Moderna vaccine to pharmacy partners and is providing 140,000 doses for assisted living.
As the state continues to expand vaccination efforts, COVID-19 has not gone away. Wisconsinites are still encouraged to mask up, stay physically distant, and wash hands frequently to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep communities safe.