State’s plan to vaccinate teachers could take 4 to 6 weeks

MADISON, Wis. — Teachers and child care workers are eligible for the vaccine starting Monday, but this phase of eligible groups could take up to two months and a state-approved master plan for prioritizing school districts.

Educators and child care will come first under the next eligible groups announced by the Department of Health Services on Thursday, followed by some essential workers, non-public facing health care workers, and people living in congregate settings–including the state’s prisoners.

Supply still lags behind demand, especially with 700,000 additional people added to eligible groups in addition to health care workers, police and fire, and people 65 years old or older. On Thursday, Public Health Madison and Dane County (PHMDC) announced they were delaying their vaccinations for teachers to begin March 19 rather than next week. Currently, some teachers in the Madison Metropolitan School District are set to return to the classroom for in-person instruction on March 9.

Local health departments that have available vaccines are free to begin vaccinating educators and child care come March 1, according to the DHS, but formal allocations for teachers from the state are still pending–and supply remains an issue. Local health departments have to get their plans for vaccinating their school districts approved before they’ll get the mass allocations needed for them.

“Everybody thought they’d be able to do everyone the first few weeks of March, and of course that is simply not feasible given the vaccine supply we have here,” Willems Van Dijk said in a press briefing Thursday.

DHS deputy secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said the state will prepare a master plan to prioritize school districts for vaccination allotments, once local public health departments finish submitting their own plans to the state. The deadline for those submissions was Thursday; it’s unclear when the state’s master plan would be finalized.

That plan won’t factor in teachers who have been teaching in-person versus virtually, due to the mix of hybrid plans and changing situations around the state. Instead, the state will prioritize districts based on the number of their students of color and students in the free lunch program.

“There are going to be people who go first, and there are going to be people who go last in line. There is no way we can change that,” Willems Van Dijk said.

Individuals who are eligible but have not received a vaccine will remain eligible, like health care workers and people over 65. On Thursday, the DHS said 48% of Wisconsin’s 65+ population had received their first dose.

The anticipated approval of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine could accelerate the current two-month timeline for the new eligible groups, Willems Van Dijk said. Currently, the state plans to incorporate the vaccine into its current distribution models without special designations should the vaccine be approved–pending federal guidance.