‘We’ve heard loudly’: People with pre-existing conditions to be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine in next phase of Wisconsin’s rollout

People with certain pre-existing conditions will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine in the next phase of Wisconsin’s rollout, which will be announced this week, a top state health official said Monday.

Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary for the state Department of Health Services, said Monday that the next phase of the rollout, known as “Phase 1C,” would be announced later this week.

“Certainly we’ve heard loudly, and the CDC guidance indicates that 1C would include people with other chronic conditions that put them at risk for COVID-19,” she said during a meeting of the Intergovernmental Cooperation Council, which involves officials from each of the 19 municipalities inside Milwaukee County.

State officials have faced criticism for not making people with pre-existing conditions eligible sooner. President Joe Biden was even asked about the issue by an Oak Creek mother of a teen with lung disease during last month’s town hall in Milwaukee.

Those currently eligible in Wisconsin include health care workers, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, police officers and firefighters, people 65 and older, teachers and other school staffers, and some essential workers.

It’s unclear the specific date the next group will be eligible. The state reported Tuesday that more than 62% of those age 65 and over had received at least one dose of vaccine.

More:Next phase of Wisconsin’s vaccine plan could begin in April, health officials estimate

Guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initially said this stage of the rollout, Phase 1C, should include people ages 16 to 64 with underlying medical conditions that “increase the risk of serious, life-threatening complications from COVID-19.”

The CDC had also previously recommended including those ages 65-74 in the Phase 1C group, but then in January recommended moving up their eligibility, as well as those with some conditions.

Wisconsin moved people 65 and over into the current phase of the rollout, known as Phase 1B, but not those with pre-existing conditions who are 64 and younger.

The next stage of Wisconsin’s vaccine rollout is also expected to expand eligibility to some essential workers, including people who work in food service, housing construction and finance, information technology, communications, law and media.

More: What we know about Wisconsin’s COVID-19 vaccine plan, who’s eligible and when

More: Wisconsin teachers will be eligible for the vaccine starting Monday

On Monday, Willems Van Dijk added, “We’ll also be predicting out to when we’ll be able to open up for all populations moving forward.”

She said last week that “part of the decision making is thinking about which pre-existing conditions and really using the CDC’s research to look at where the strongest evidence is about which conditions contribute to COVID-19.”

“When you think about how long other diseases have been studied, other communicable diseases like HIV or hepatitis C or Ebola or Zika or other emerging infections, we’ve had years to look at those infections or those diseases and understand the contributing causes,” she told reporters during a media briefing. 

She added that officials were trying “to include the people who we know are at risk, to think about do we put people who might be at risk, and how do we do this in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the vaccinating system.”

As many as 2 million more Wisconsin residents will be eligible in this next round, the Associated Press reported.

Wisconsin officials have not yet said which underlying health conditions will be prioritized in the next stage of the rollout. 

The federal CDC guidelines say health conditions that put people at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 include cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), Down Syndrome, heart conditions (such as heart failure), a weakened immune system due to an organ transplant, obesity, pregnancy, sickle cell disease and diabetes.

The CDC also lists conditions that might put people at increased risk for severe illness from the disease, including those with asthma, cystic fibrosis, high blood pressure, immune deficiencies, HIV, neurologic conditions (such as dementia), and liver disease.

As of Feb. 15, only 17 states had opened up vaccine eligibility in part or in full to people with pre-existing conditions, a Kaiser Family Foundation report released last month found.

On Monday, Willems Van Dijk again warned that eligibility does not mean instant access to vaccine due to supply shortages.

“While we are looking forward to more vaccine and we’ve made great progress over the last month, we know we still have far more who want vaccine than can receive the vaccine,” she said. “And we know especially when we turn the on button for people with chronic conditions who have been waiting so desperately to have their day to have vaccines, they’re going to want to be front in line.”

Contact Mary Spicuzza at (414) 224-2324 or mary.spicuzza@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MSpicuzzaMJS.