Wisconsin's vaccine priority draws criticism: 'Real disappointment'

Another wave of Wisconsin residents will soon be eligible to receive their COVID-19 vaccine shots.

There is already growing confusion and criticism over who health officials say should be prioritized among the new groups.

As life turned upside down when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Sarah Knowles remained patient.

"We’ve been confined to home, and we’ve made the best of it," Knowles said.

When Knowles learned this week that her son, Matthew, might have to wait another month to get the COVID-19 vaccine, her patience ran out.

"We’ve had March 1 as this really big date to look forward to, and now it’s suddenly, we don’t have a firm date," said Knowles.

Sarah Knowles with her son, Matthew

Staring March 1, vaccine eligibility expands to Wisconsin residents who are enrolled in long-term Medicaid programs, like Matthew, who has cerebral palsy and a cognitive delay. Shots will also become available to people in education, public-facing essential jobs and congregate living settings.

"Based on the current allocation numbers, it will take about two months to vaccinate these groups," said Julie Willems Van Dijk, Wisconsin Department of Health Services deputy secretary.

With not enough vaccine supply for everyone, the state is instructing vaccinators to prioritize school and child care staff.

"Certainly, those other groups in this eligibility phase are not forgotten," Willems Van Dijk said. 

COVID-19 vaccine

To Knowles, though, it seems exactly like people such as her son are being forgotten.

"The Medicaid long-term care group has a much higher chance of hospitalization," said Knowles.

Knowles initially planned to get Matthew vaccinated next week through the local health department. Now, he isn't able to receive a shot.

"They just said, thank you for being an advocate for your son and we’re sorry that we can’t change the order," Knowles said.

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It's creating more frustration for the Knowles family and so many others who feel they've been patient long enough.

"Prioritizing one group over another now, with literally like three or four days to go, was a real disappointment," said Knowles.

Knowles said Matthew's doctor with Froedtert is also unable to get him in next week for the vaccine because Froedtert is still working through the 65-and-older patients.

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