MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Teachers will be prioritized to receive the first shipment of about 48,000 doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine coming to Wisconsin next week, a bolster in supply that won’t be matched again for several weeks, the state’s deputy health secretary said Tuesday.
About 30% of Wisconsin public school districts — 131 out of 421 — will be done vaccinating teachers by March 15, said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. The state originally planned to prioritize schools for vaccine distribution, but didn’t need to do that because initial supply of the vaccine met the plans for distribution submitted by schools, she said.
“We feel really great about the way this all timed out,” Willems Van Dijk said. “The good news is, we’ll get our teachers vaccinated quickly and by doing that it opens the vaccine pipeline for others in this eligibility group.”
Republicans who control the state Legislature continue to put pressure on Gov. Tony Evers to force all schools to resume in-person classes. Evers has left opening decisions up to the schools and said Tuesday he can’t force them resume in-person classes.
“I cannot order schools to open,” Evers said. “It’s not part of my ability as governor.”
The state’s two largest public school districts in Milwaukee and Madison have yet to resume in-person classes, although Madison will begin a gradual return of students starting with kindergartners next week.
Along with teachers, people over age 65 are also eligible for the vaccine in Wisconsin. More than 55% of them have been vaccinated. Others newly eligible this week include child care workers, grocery store employees, public transit workers and those enrolled in Medicaid long-term care programs.
The state will be announcing the next eligibility group soon, and it could include those who have underlying chronic health conditions, Willems Van Dijk said. It could be up to two months before that next group, known as 1c, becomes eligible, she said.
While the incoming Johnson & Johnson vaccine will help speed up immunizations, it likely won’t be matched again until the end of the month, Willems Van Dijk said. The 48,000 doses coming next week were already manufactured and in storage awaiting approval from federal regulators, she said.
Also announced Tuesday, nearly 4,000 doses of vaccine is headed to Pick ’n Save and Metro Market locations in Wisconsin this week as Kroger stores are added to a federal program targeting underserved areas. Previously, only Walgreens stores in Wisconsin were in the program.
The federal government is providing 2,340 doses this week and the state is contributing 1,552 doses. Anyone currently eligible for the vaccine can schedule an appointment through Kroger’s website or by calling 866-211-5320.
Kroger, which operates 67 stores in Wisconsin under the Pick ’n Save and Metro Market names, will allocate vaccine to their stores that are not already receiving vaccine from the state, the health department said.
Nearly 929,000 people in Wisconsin had received at least one dose and more than 510,000 people, nearly 9% of the population, had received two doses.
As supply increases, the state is working to complete a registry where people can make appointments to get the shot or get on a waiting list. The state last month announced the registry would launch on March 1, but problems identified during testing delayed the launch until later this week, Willems Van Dijk said.
When the registry is released to vaccinators and the public, “we want it to be completely functional,” Willems Van Dijk said. “We made that decision that quality trumps speed in this one.”
Part of the delay comes with loading currently eligible people who are on existing waiting lists into the system before opening registration to the general public, she said.
Wisconsin had administered at least one dose to 16.7% of its population as of Monday, ranking it 19th nationwide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The national average is 15.3%.