Local hospitals prioritize 65 + population eligible for COVID vaccines in different ways

MADISON, Wis. — All Wisconsinites age 65 and older became eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine on Monday. That’s an estimated 700,000 people.

But the state is only getting about 70,000 doses of vaccine a week. Health care officials believe it will take several weeks to get to all of the people 65 and older who want a vaccine, as many in group 1A still need to be vaccinated.

Because of this big difference in supply and demand, hospital systems are prioritizing this group in different ways.

UnityPoint Health-Meriter is scheduling people 65 and older with comorbidities first, including those with heart disease and pulmonary issues like COPD.

“We’re just randomly selecting from people that have comorbidities and reaching out to them,” said UnityPoint Health-Meriter VP of Clinic Operations David Childers.

Childers said there are about 6,300 UnityPoint Health-Meriter patients that are in the over 65 category.

“We’re trying to match the number of people that we reach out to to our capacity to do the vaccines, and also make sure that we have sufficient vaccine supply. So it’s kind of a week by week process,” said Childers.

SSM Health is taking a different approach by prioritizing people 75 and older first. Then they’ll move on to contacting people 65-74 years old.

“We have over 118,000 patients in our system alone who are 65 and up, so we knew it wasn’t going to be possible for us to vaccine everyone 65 and up all in week one,” said Mo Kharbat, VP of Pharmacy Services at SSM Health.

Kharbat said the health system has increased capacity to be able to give 20,000 doses a week, but they’re not getting enough vaccine to do that. They’ve been doing about 1,000 shots a day.

Kharbat said all SSM Health employees eligible in group 1A who wanted a vaccine have gotten one, but there are still about 3,000 community health care workers who are still waiting. They will take priority before people 65 and older.

Public Health Madison and Dane County also has 3,000 people in 1A to vaccine still.

“We’re just not receiving enough vaccine to keep up with the number of people that are eligible to be vaccinated,” said Doug Voegelli, PHMDC Operations Lead.

People without insurance will have to go through PHMDC to get vaccinated. In order to get on the list, you must fill out a survey.

But Voegelli said it could be a few weeks before anyone who fills out that survey is scheduled to get a vaccine because PHMDC is only being allocated about 1,000 first doses a week.

When that time comes, PHMDC could be prioritizing communities who have been impacted the most by COVID-19.

“That could mean that we are looking at race, ethnicity and also social vulnerability. So those are some of the things that we may be using to help prioritize within the 65+ (community) to make sure that we are getting at the higher risk populations,” said Vorgelli.