(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Immunizations complete for more than 1 million people. State on track to meet May 1 deadline for widespread vaccine eligibility. Legal challenge to face mask safeguard about to be decided.

Between one million Wisconsinites receiving the full COVID-19 vaccine dose and the state potentially opening up eligibility to everyone over 16 before May 1, Wisconsin got a full dose of good vaccine news on Monday. 

During a virtual luncheon with the Milwaukee Press Club, Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk credited the increase in vaccine supply from the Biden administration and the hard work of health agencies for getting the state to one million fully vaccinated Wisconsinites and almost 30% of the state’s population having received at least one dose. 

“This is incredible progress in a little over three months,” Willems Van Dijk said.

As of Monday morning, DHS reports 1,001,142 people have completed their vaccination series, or 17.2% of the state population. (Approximately 20% of the state population is under age 16 and not eligible to be vaccinated yet.)

Willems Van Dijk also said the state may be able to open eligibility to all Wisconsinites sooner than previously expected. DHS previously stated that all Wisconsinites over 16 would be eligible for the vaccine as soon as May 1. 

Related: One Year Later, COVID-19 Deaths Leave Many Holes Across Wisconsin

“We continue to evaluate uptake in our current phases and our future vaccine supply from the federal government to determine if we will be able to move that date up earlier than May,” Willems Van Dijk said. 

As the state continues to move forward, Willems Van Dijk said DHS is targeting vulnerable populations by prioritizing vaccine distribution to Indigenous tribes, community health clinics, federally qualified health clinics, and local health departments. DHS has also provided $6 million in grants for community based organizations to undertake vaccine outreach and education. 

DHS and health providers in Milwaukee are working to target communities in vulnerable zip codes, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control. Milwaukee has ten zip codes based on socioeconomics, housing, race, ethnicity, languages spoken, and transportation. The department is working with area religious organizations and physicians, and is opening daily vaccine clinics at area schools.

“If you’re not ready today and if you decide on Friday you’re ready to go but you don’t know where to go because the mobile clinic was on Monday, you’re at a loss,” Willems Van Dijk said. “I think it’s helpful to have a place people can count on to go to every day.”

DHS is also working with La Clinica, which last year partnered with the department to provide COVID-19 testing among migrant farm workers, to get vaccine doses out to those same workers ahead of planting season. 

On Monday, DHS reported 296 new COVID-19 cases, reflecting a continued declining trend. Three new deaths bring the reported pandemic death toll to 6,601.

Despite the ongoing new cases and deaths, legal efforts continue at removing safeguards such as the statewide face mask requirement. The Wisconsin Supreme Court announced Monday afternoon it would release its ruling on Wednesday in a lawsuit seeking to have the mask safeguard thrown out. Arguments in the case were made before the justices in mid-November.