K-12 and higher ed teachers, child care workers prioritized for vaccine starting March 1

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WAUKESHA, Wis. (CBS 58) -- New groups become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, Mar. 1.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services, or DHS, confirmed on Thursday, Feb. 25, that people who are 65 and older, teachers and child care workers will be prioritized among the new eligible groups.

The newly eligible groups, initially announced in January, include in priority order: education and child care staff, people enrolled in Medicaid long-term care programs, some public-facing essential workers, non-frontline essential health care personnel, and facility staff and residents in congregate living settings.

DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said Wisconsin’s vaccine supply is expected to increase in the coming weeks, which means the state is in a good position to open up the next eligibility group. Wisconsin has vaccinated nearly 50 percent of residents 65 and older.

Willems Van Dijk said she has a message for teachers across the state: "We cannot get every one of you a vaccine on March 1, but you are all going to get a vaccine in the next four to six weeks."

Teachers and child care providers should anticipate receiving vaccine in March and early April, and the remaining groups can plan to be vaccinated in April and May, according to DHS.

Willems Van Dijk said DHS has asked counties to submit plans on how they plan to vaccinate teachers. DHS plans to rank school districts and then make a schedule of which districts will get vaccinated first.

The eligibility group includes child care workers, K-12 staff who have direct contact with students and higher education staff who have direct contact with students, Willems Van Dijk said.

Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow sent a letter urging DHS to prioritize teachers who are teaching in person over those who are teaching virtually.

"Those individuals that took the time to to prepare to be in the classrooms should have a priority over those individuals that are still sitting in the living rooms," Farrow said.

There are about 10,000 private and public school teachers in Waukesha County, and most are back in the classroom, according to Farrow.

During a media briefing on Thursday, Willems Van Dijk said the state received Farrow's letter, but it won't be a criteria.

"The real reason is that first of all, there is a wide continuum of how people are in school and it is changing day by day," Willems Van Dijk said. "I also have received letters or communication from people saying, 'We need our staff to be first because we haven't been in school and we want them to be vaccinated and protected before they go back to school.'"

Instead, Willems Van Dijk said, the state will consider other factors in prioritizing one district over another such as percentages of students on free and reduced lunch and students of color.

"They and their families have been disproportionately affected by this pandemic and so we feel it's important that we get vaccine to their school districts early on," Willems Van Dijk said.

Farrow said his county is still vaccinating people 65 and older, and they won't get to teachers until around March 15.

"Just because the eligibility group opened up does not mean that there's available doses," Farrow said.

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