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Wisconsin opens COVID-19 vaccinations to everyone over 65

Published: Jan. 19, 2021 at 9:38 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 19, 2021 at 6:50 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The Dept. of Health Services announced Tuesday that starting next week all adults over the 65 years old will be allowed to get the coronavirus vaccine.

The agency says there are approximately 700,000 people over that age in the state, adding that the state is currently receiving around 70,000 first-dose vaccines per week. During a news conference Tuesday afternoon, DHS officials said to get 80 percent of the total Wisconsin population vaccinated by June it would need three times that supply.

Even though DHS approved vaccinations for seniors, health officials warned it may take a couple weeks for health care providers to be up to speed to distribute the vaccine regularly. UW Health has already added a waitlist to its website.

“Older adults have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and prioritizing this population will help save lives,” outgoing DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said. The relatively high death rate for those over 65 years old who test positive for the virus was a key factor in their decision to approve the group now, health officials said.

“This is a great first step,” said Lisa Lamkins, advocacy director at AARP Wisconsin. Lamkins continued, “It’s really important to follow that evidence and make sure older people get priority when it comes to being vaccinated.”

Lamkins said AARP members are already eager to get their shot.

“We have gotten calls, a lot of calls and emails from our members who want to know where can they go, when can they sign up,” Lamkins explained.

UW Health told NBC15 it could start rolling out the vaccine within days, but reaching everyone will take time.

“We are going to reach out to you and then let you know that it’s your turn to schedule your appointment,” said UW Health Chief Quality Officer Dr. Jeff Pothof.

Pothof explained for fastest notification, UW Health patients should make sure they have an active MyChart account. UW Health will use MyChart to contact patients and send reminders when it is time for the second vaccine dose.

DHS and UW Health both ask people to schedule appointments online rather than call, to leave phone lines open for people with more urgent needs.

For people who cannot sign up for MyChart, UW Health has set up a vaccine information phone line. Patients can call 608-720-5300.

“Please save that phone number for people who don’t have MyChart ability,” Pothof asked.

UW Health has also started a waitlist of people they will contact if there are extra doses at the end of the day.

“We need to give that vaccine to someone or it goes to waste,” Pothof explained, but he cautioned signing up for the waitlist does not mean people will get the vaccine faster.

The biggest message from health officials now is patience.

“With such a huge number of people to get through, it’ll take us a few weeks to get through that list,” Pothof explained.

Lamkins added, “I think people are like ‘Yeah, I can get the vaccine next week,’ and that’s not going to be the case.”

Right now, only frontline health care workers, residents of long-term care facilities, and police and firefighters are eligible for the vaccine. The police officers and firefighters just became eligible this week with local law enforcement and firefighters receiving their first doses on Monday.

DHS explains seniors will be able to get the vaccine through their health care provider, pharmacy, or local or public health agency. Any of those providers who have vaccinated everyone in the currently eligible groups can start vaccinating those over 65 years old immediately. Additionally, some local health departments may have set up community clinics and Gov. Tony Evers announced Friday the state would roll out mobile vaccination clinics.

“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,” Florence County Health Officer and Wisconsin Association of Local Health Department Boards Co-President Annette Sielbold said.

According to DHS, the Wisconsin State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee recommended prioritizing the senior population because of the more severe consequences they may face because of the virus. The full recommendations for who all will be added to the 1B group, which includes police officers, firefighters, and now seniors.

As the vaccine rollout continues and more people are getting vaccinated, health officials still recommend people continue to take precautions to protect themselves from the virus, including social distancing and wearing masks.

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