States race to open up vaccines to general public; WI holds at May 1

Governor Evers has said everyone 16 and older will be eligible for the vaccine by May 1st. 

That was the deadline the president instructed states to commit to. But that deadline has now spurred a race among a growing number of states to make the shots available much sooner. 

More than 1.5 million people in Wisconsin have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

On Monday, the Department of Health Services opened up eligibility to those 16 and older with certain underlying health conditions, but officials say they are holding off on making shots available to everyone until May 1st while supply remains limited. 

"We certainly want to give time for folks with these chronic diseases into the vaccine system, to make appointments," said Julie Willems Van Dijk, DHS Deputy Secretary.

Meanwhile, at least 25 states have either already opened up eligibility to the general public or announced specific dates prior to May 1 of when they plan to do so, including neighbors in Michigan, Illinois and Iowa. 

FOX6 asked: Do you think other states are making a mistake and rushing to vaccinate the general public or are they in a better place to be able to open up eligibility to everyone? 

"It's an apples to oranges comparison to go from state-to-state," Willems Van Dijk said. "We have different avenues for vaccine supply, we've had different phasing, we have different populations."

Officials say they'll be monitoring a number of factors in the coming weeks to determine whether or not to move up the timeline, including the status of supply and concerns about more contagious strains of the virus spreading, especially among young adults. 

"I think that’s a great factor we would take into consideration," she said. "This presence of the variants could be a motivating factor for people who might not have considered the vaccine beforehand, who would now."

There are now 70 confirmed cases of variant strains of the virus in Wisconsin. 

Keep in mind, only about one percent of all samples collected are tested for the variant. 

Locally and across the state, we are seeing a slight increase in the number of overall positive cases.

More than 27% of Wisconsin residents have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, but state health officials raised concern Thursday about a new spike in positive cases — including variants — leading to renewed cautions about traveling during spring break season and dropping other safeguards.

Over the past seven days, the average number of new COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin was 439 and the percentage of positive tests was 2.5%, up from 2% two weeks ago. There are now 69 detected cases of the more contagious B117 variant first identified in England, up from 55 last week.

Infection rates have recently jumped in some states, including neighboring Michigan and Minnesota, and public health experts warn at every opportunity that relaxing social distancing and other measures could easily lead to another surge.

"In a way we’ve been lulled into a sense of security here in Wisconsin because we had it so bad and just having it bad doesn’t seem too awful to us.," said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy state health secretary, during a news conference call on Thursday.

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While weekly cases topped 6,000 at the height of the pandemic in mid-November, the current level of around 450 new positives a week is still very high, Willems Van Dijk said.

"We were never at a low level of disease activity," she said.

Willems Van Dijk cautioned against traveling or engaging in other risky behavior as the state continues to make progress with vaccinations. Next week, Wisconsin is slated to receive about 35,000 doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, she said, which will help boost immunization efforts.

"We don’t want to take five steps back just when we’re at the cusp of things getting a lot better," she said.

More than 2 million people with certain underlying conditions, including being overweight or having high blood pressure, become eligible for the vaccine this week. The general public is scheduled to become eligible on May 1. About half of other states plan to open eligibility to everyone before then.

Wisconsin will need to have more vaccine coming in that it is receiving currently before that date can be moved any earlier, Willems Van Dijk said.

"We continue to evaluate this and we'll see where we are," she said. "Once we feel confident in the supply of vaccine we're receiving and the pacing of vaccine we will make the decision and we will announce it."

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COVID-19 vaccine

As of Thursday, more than 27% of Wisconsin residents age 16 and up had received at least one dose and nearly 16% were fully vaccinated, according to the state health department. Nearly 74% of people over age 65 have received at least one dose.

Wisconsin's fourth community-based coronavirus vaccination clinic will open April 6 in Wausau, Gov. Tony Evers announced Thursday.

The clinic at Northcentral Technical College will join previously opened community clinics in Janesville, La Crosse and Racine.

"These vaccination clinics continue to serve Wisconsin by giving folks more options to get vaccinated," Evers said in a statement. "And in doing so, bring us all one step closer to getting back to our Wisconsin way of life."

The Wausau clinic will administer at least 400 doses of vaccine per day, with the ability to go to 1,000 doses daily, Evers' administration said. The first appointments will go to those on the Marathon County Health Department's waiting list for priority patients.

As of Saturday, the Janesville clinic had administered 5,703 vaccine doses, and the one in La Crosse had administered 2,021 doses, the governor's office said. The Racine clinic just opened on Tuesday.

Associated Press contributed to this story.

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