Wisconsin residents 16 and older eligible for COVID-19 vaccines starting Monday

MADISON – Everyone in Wisconsin age 16 and older will be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot starting Monday. 

Gov. Tony Evers made the announcement Tuesday, expanding the state’s vaccine rollout to everyone in the state about four weeks earlier than planned. 

The move comes as President Joe Biden urged governors to make COVID-19 vaccines available to the general public by mid-April. 

Wisconsin will join six states — Kansas, Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas — in expanding vaccine eligibility to all adults on Monday.

Vaccine supply is growing in Wisconsin. According to CDC data, the state got about 188,000 first doses of vaccine this week, which is nearly 45,000 more than the week before.  

Supply is more limited for teenagers, however. Currently, the Pfizer vaccine is the only COVID-19 vaccine authorized for individuals ages 16 and 17. No vaccines have been authorized for children younger than 16. 

DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said Tuesday the decision to expand eligibility to everyone was based on reliable estimates of vaccine supply from the federal government and made because most of the state was already eligible anyway. 

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Variants bring worries of another surge

The new eligibility helps state health officials race against the spread of COVID-19 variants, three of which have been found in Wisconsin in recent weeks, including one first identified in Brazil that may make vaccines less effective.     

“There is more than hope and spring weather in the air,” Evers said Tuesday at a press conference about the rising number of COVID-19 cases. “Don’t let the COVID-19 fatigue get the best of you when we are this close to the finish line.”

New COVID-19 cases are spiking in Wisconsin, which Willems Van Dijk called warning signs of another surge. The seven-day average of new cases is now 501, up from 387 a week ago.  

As of Tuesday, about 1 million people in Wisconsin were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and another 1.7 million had received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to Department of Health Services data. 

7 new pharmacy chains to vaccinate

As the state expands eligibility, seven new pharmacy chains will begin administering COVID-19 vaccine doses. 

Wisconsin residents will be able to schedule appointments at nearly 600 pharmacy locations as a result of the expansion announced Tuesday by DHS. 

Pharmacies at Costco, CVS, and Hy-Vee locations will administer vaccines as well as the independent pharmacy networks of Good Neighbor and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp., Health Mart, Medicine Shoppe and Cardinal Health, and Topco. 

“Our vaccine team and partners are committed to making the vaccine as accessible to everyone as possible,” DHS Secretary Karen Timberlake said. “We urge everyone currently eligible to visit the DHS website to learn about how to schedule an appointment. And please remember that whether you are insured or not, the vaccine is free to everyone.”  

Dr. Ben Weston, director of medical services at the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management, called the increased eligibility “a major step for our state.”

But, he said, that also means that starting Monday and for at least the foreseeable future, there will be heightened competition for the vaccine.

He urged those who are currently eligible but have not gotten the vaccine to do so before it becomes available to many more people next week.

Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson said she was confident her department would be able to handle a spike in demand. The department has been planning for this for a few weeks and will have additional appointments available starting Monday, she said.

The city’s website, Milwaukee.gov/CovidVax, will be updated over the weekend to allow those who are newly eligible to make appointments for Monday, she said.

County Executive David Crowley said he was excited about the announcement.

“While we’re opening up eligibility to everyone, this does help remove some barriers, but we know there’s still work to be done getting vaccine to our most vulnerable communities and encouraging people to get the vaccine,” he said.

Contact Molly Beck at molly.beck@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MollyBeck.