‘Incredibly disappointed’: Manufacturers, other essential workers to become vaccine-eligible with general public

WMC asks DHS to reconsider

MADISON, Wis. – The COVID-19 vaccine rollout has some manufacturing workers in the state feeling left out.

On Monday, an estimated two million people in Wisconsin with high-risk medical conditions become eligible for the vaccine as part of Phase 1C.

The Centers’ for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations put manufacturing workers in Phase 1B, but the State Disaster and Medical Advisory Committee did not include the group of about 500,000 such workers in the state’s Phase 1B when deliberating early in the vaccine rollout this winter – a time when vaccine supply was far more limited.

“We asked them, and they agreed that they shouldn’t put a group in that’s so big that we wouldn’t be able to vaccinate them for months and months,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services deputy secretary.

The CDC also recommended putting “essential workers not included in Phase 1B” into Phase 1C, so Nick Novak of Wisconsin Manufactures & Commerce said the state’s manufacturers’ association is disheartened that won’t be the case.

“We’re just incredibly disappointed,” Novak said. “Manufacturers have to be part of the equation.”

WMC is asking that DHS reconsider.

“They have gone into work every single day to produce PPE, to produce hand sanitizer, to produce test kits,” Novak said. “They have been a part of the response to COVID-19 and they’ve been deemed essential, but now when it comes to the getting the vaccine, Gov. Evers and DHS have said they’re not essential. Simply, they’re not going to be prioritized.”

At a media briefing Thursday, Willems Van Dijk said with where supply is now, they moved to Phase 1C knowing that the vaccine would be available to the general population “very soon” by May 1.

Phase 1C encompasses only those with high-risk medical conditions. The CDC recommended also including essential workers such as those who work in who work in transportation and logistics, food service, housing construction and finance, information technology, communications, energy, law, media, public safety, and public health.

Certain workers in some of those categories are already eligible in Wisconsin. Public health workers who provide vaccines and COVID-19 testing are included in Phase 1A in Wisconsin. Some transportation workers such as bus drivers are included in Phase 1B eligibility, as well as food service workers like restaurant workers, but DHS is not including any additional essential worker groups in Phase 1C.

“We just felt like continuing to create eligibility by occupational group is confusing to everyone,” Willems Van Dijk said. “We’re going to get there very soon and many, many of those employees are now eligible because of chronic health conditions.”

That doesn’t include everyone at Teel Plastics in Baraboo, where workers keep essential products rolling off the line.

“We’ve had people in the plant working, especially making COVID test swabs literally every day 24 hours a day since March 5 last year,” said Christian Herrild, director of growth strategies at Teel Plastics. “That is absolutely necessary.”

Herrild said it was “a little surprising” to learn Teel’s workers as a whole won’t be eligible for the vaccine until the rest of the public.

“We aren’t anywhere on the list,” he said. “Especially with some of the work we’re doing, it would be, I think, really impactful.”

Despite taking ” the best precautions we can,” Herrild said “it’s just not the same level of safety as being able to get everyone vaccinated.”

That would make a big difference, he said, for the workers coming into the building every day.

“They’re coming into work because they feel it’s important,” Herrild said. “It would help a lot of our workers who are very concerned about it feel better and feel more secure about coming into work.”