Health officials expect to open the vaccine up to all state residents in May.
More than 2 million Wisconsinites with certain pre-existing conditions—including being overweight—will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine starting March 29, the state Department of Health Services (DHS) announced Thursday.
DHS is opening eligibility up to people 16 and older affected by one or more of a list of 20 conditions ranging from cancer to pregnancy. Also included in the group are overweight and obese individuals; 67% of Wisconsin adults are overweight or obese, according to DHS data. These groups make up at least 2 million state residents, according to DHS estimates.
The new group is being added as Wisconsin continues to greatly expand its vaccine rollout. As of Thursday, more than 1.8 million state residents have been vaccinated and the state is nearing 300,000 administered doses per week, according to DHS data.
State health officials are expecting vaccine eligibility for the general public starting in May, DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said during a Thursday call with reporters. But, she warned, the state’s residents won’t achieve herd immunity—when about 80% of the population has either had COVID-19 or received a vaccine—until later in the year.
“I fully anticipate that we’ll be vaccinating well throughout the summer,” Willems Van Dijk said, citing a large swath of the population who might not get a vaccine as soon as they’re able.
Gov. Tony Evers said in the call that Wisconsinites still need to follow COVID-19 safety precautions such as mask-wearing, especially as highly contagious coronavirus variants continue to spread throughout the country.
“We can’t afford to lose ground this late in the game,” Evers said.
Evers also said he would consider another extension of the statewide mask mandate, which expires in early April. He did not directly answer when asked if it would be the final extension.
“The last thing we want to do is make sure that we let our guard down on issues around mitigation when we’re kind of at the finish line,” Evers said. “We don’t want, at some point in time, having to push out that finish line because we decided to not mitigate when we should.”