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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Educators & Childcare Workers Next In Line For Vaccine, Beginning March 1

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Wisconsin Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk speaks during a virtual press conference Feb. 23.

Now that close to half of Wisconsinites age 65 and older have received at least one shot, the Department of Health Services is opening eligibility to more people in Phase 1b. It's starting with school and daycare employees – an estimated 225,000 people – who will be eligible March 1.

DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk explained in a press briefing Tuesday why teachers are getting COVID shots before some other public-facing workers, like grocery store clerks and bus drivers.

“This is a group that is essential,” Willems Van Dijk said. “We want our kids in school. We know a number of districts have been in-person since early in the year, and we know a number of districts are moving in that direction. And we know teachers work every day with a population that is not able to be vaccinated because of their age.”

The amount of vaccine Wisconsin receives from the federal government is set to increase to about 115,000 first doses per week, according to DHS. Willems Van Dijk said that will allow the state to continue vaccinating older adults, in addition to educators.

“I understand if you’re in the half of the folks 65 and older who have not yet received your vaccine that you may be anxious about whether you’re going to get one,” Willems Van Dijk said. “And what I can assure you is, you will. There is more vaccine coming. You’re not going to be crowded out.”

With the March 1 eligibility date for teachers coming up in less than a week, local health departments are making plans to distribute the shots.

Ann Christiansen, director of the North Shore Health Department, is urging teachers to be patient since vaccine supply is far behind demand.

“I think the question is how long will it take to get through all of them,” Christiansen said. “And I believe the state’s goal is by the end of April. But again, [it’s] dependent on supply. We’ve got capacity, so if we were able to get the supply, certainly we would be able to achieve that goal and probably exceed it and get them done sooner.”

Kenosha County Health Officer Jen Freiheit said the county has already matched 12 vaccine distributers with school districts, private schools, and childcare facilities. She says, once the vaccinators have doses in hand, they’ll be able to hit the ground running.

“We’re ready for that,” said Freiheit. “We have worked with all of our school districts and childcare agencies, and pending vaccine supply, we are ready on March 1 to be able to vaccinate.”

Milwaukee Health Department Interim Commissioner Marlaina Jackson said Tuesday the city is asking the state to increase its vaccine allotment to 10,000 doses next week so it can start inoculating educators.

In a few days, the state will tell providers how many doses they can expect next week. Then, teachers and daycare workers will start finding out when they can get their shots.

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