By some indicators, Wisconsin’s vaccine rollout remains one of the best in nation

MADISON, Wis. — All of Wisconsin’s residents are expected to become eligible for the vaccine by the end of May, state health officials announced Thursday.

The announcement comes as more than half a million people in Wisconsin have completed their two-dose Covid-19 vaccine regimen and more than 1.5 million shots have been given out, according to the latest data from the Department of Health Services. Wisconsin has climbed to near the top of the nation’s ranking in recent weeks for vaccine rollout, with almost 17% of the state’s population having gotten at least one dose and more than a quarter of the state’s 65+ individuals.

Wisconsin’s place nationwide

When ranking vaccine rollouts around the country, there’s a variety of metrics to use when comparing progress between states. Some pull ahead when measured by what percentage of their population has received a first shot; others when measured using both shots (or completed vaccinations; data does not yet include the Johnson & Johnson single-shot regime.)

Gov. Tony Evers touted some of those metrics in a Twitter post on March 3, showing Wisconsin as 1st in the Upper Midwest for total doses administered per 100K in population, and 3rd in the nation for percentage of doses used–according to a New York Times table. Both of those metrics are based on data pulled from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a system that  throughout the rollout is at times inconsistent with state-level vaccine data due to reporting delays and other factors. About two weeks ago, the CDC started including allocations to federal agencies inside of the state’s count, resulting in numbers different than reported on the DHS website due to state health officials only tracking allocations made directly to Wisconsin.

But regardless of the metric, Wisconsin has improved across the board when compared to earlier on in the rollout when the CDC consistently placed it near the bottom of both the Midwest and nationwide rankings. Health experts point to the measurement of how many available doses have been administered as one of the most important when measuring rollout progress.

“The answer is slow and steady wins the race,” Ann Lewandowski with the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative said. (She also chairs but was not speaking for the state board that was responsible for making recommendations to the state about vaccine eligible phases, a group that has not met since January.) “Knowing that we don’t have vaccine sitting in freezers or refrigerators is critical, because what that’s a measure of is efficacy within the system for delivery.”

Criticism, concerns remain

One of the most common concerns cited by Wisconsin citizens is the lack of eligibility for adults under 65 with a health condition that puts them at higher risk of severe cases of Covid-19. The DHS opted to open up eligibility for teachers, child care and some other essential workers–once more than half of Wisconsin’s 65+ population was vaccinated. Younger adults with underlying medical conditions are being considered for the next phase–but that phase may not start for weeks.

DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk announced Thursday that the state was likely to make their announcements of who would be eligible in Phase 1C next week. The state has previously indicated they are considering younger adults with high risk medical conditions as part of that phase, as are currently included in the CDC’s Phase 1C recommendations. Part of the decision, however, is determining which conditions to include in the list of those who would be high risk and eligible.

In Minnesota, medically-high risk adults are on the list  for the next phase, once 70% of the state’s 65+ population are vaccinated. In Illinois, some parts of the state have recently opened up to include adults with certain medical conditions, but other areas are holding off due to limited supply.

Currently, Wisconsin’s latest eligibility groups include teachers, child care, grocery store workers, some other public-facing essential workers as well as non-frontline essential health care workers, and people in congregate living, including prisoners. They joined health care workers, long term care residents, police and fire, and people over 65 in individuals eligible for a vaccine in Wisconsin.

Finish line in sight

President Joe Biden announced earlier this week that vaccines would be available for everyone by the end of May, two months earlier than previously announced, under a groundbreaking manufacturing partnership with competing pharmacy giants Merck and Johnson & Johnson.

Everyone would become eligible by end of May under that timeline in Wisconsin, Willems Van Dijk said in a press briefing Thursday, but actual dose administration may last into early July. That would depend on how many have been already vaccinated, and how quickly the supply becomes administered.

“We’re not going to have unlimited vaccine supply,” Willems Van Dijk said. “We’ll just have enough to get to everyone.”