Lisa Turner of Kenosha gets a COVID vaccine
Lisa Turner, 63, of Kenosha receives a dose of COVID-19 vaccine Friday morning. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

Governor leaves open the possibility to also push up general public eligibility.

The next COVID-19 vaccine group, which includes people with pre-existing conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and being overweight, will now be eligible to begin receiving vaccinations by March 22, Gov. Tony Evers and the Department of Health Services announced Tuesday afternoon. 

The new date is a week earlier than previously planned.

“Our vaccinators across the state are doing great work to get folks vaccinated and get this done, and because of their good work, Wisconsin continues to be a national leader in getting shots in arms,” Evers said in a statement. “Moving up eligibility for this critical group will help us get over the finish line and sooner, and get us back to our Wisconsin way of life.”

The announcement came the day after Wisconsin passed 2 million administered vaccine doses. The new group of eligibility includes 20 conditions that encompass at least 2 million more Wisconsinites due in large part to the group’s inclusion of overweightness and obesity, conditions that affect nearly 70% of the state’s adults. 

State residents ages 16 and up with one or more of the conditions will be eligible for vaccination.

Speaking in Kenosha on Friday, Evers promised every Wisconsinite will be eligible for the vaccine by May 1, the deadline set by President Joe Biden. In a Tuesday webinar hosted by Wisconsin Health News, Evers didn’t rule out opening up vaccine eligibility for the general public before that date.

“We will always look at pushing it up,” Evers said. “We want to get shots in people’s arms.”

Earlier: FEMA Adding a Vaccine Clinic in Milwaukee

After a rocky start, Wisconsin’s vaccine rollout has rebounded, and the state now leads the nation in terms of doses administered as a proportion of doses provided by the federal government, according to a New York Times database. Wisconsin has used 94% of its allocated doses, but it still lags other states and territories in terms of the percentage of the population that has received a dose, an indication that state health officials still aren’t receiving enough supply to meet the demand.

During the Wisconsin Health News webinar, Evers reiterated the need to wear masks, even with case numbers plummeting and vaccinations rising. He is still considering extending the statewide mask mandate, which expires early next month.

“I think we still have to, whether there’s a mandate or not—and I’ll decide then—we still should be masking up,” Evers said. “We still should be doing whatever we can to mitigate the disease.”

As the state inches toward a post-pandemic world, Evers also said he does not see the need to try to get the Republican-led state Legislature to pass a new pandemic relief bill. The Legislature went more than 300 days without passing a single bill during the pandemic.

Instead, Evers said he’ll rely on the incoming federal aid from Democrats’ coronavirus relief bill, which will deliver billions of dollars to the state government and local governments across Wisconsin.

“There are probably some things out there yet that we need to take care of, or could take care of,” Evers said. “But as far as influx of resources, I believe this money that is coming out from the Biden administration will be the answer to that.”