MADISON - Wisconsin health officials are making COVID-19 vaccine shots available to anyone age 65 and older later this month — the state's first move to inoculate the general public from a virus that has killed more than 5,000 people in the state in less than a year.
But the effort will take time, Wisconsin Department of Health Services officials warned. The agency announced the expansion of the state's vaccine rollout to Wisconsin's elderly as the state continues to receive fewer doses of vaccine from the federal government than needed to quickly provide shots to state residents.
About 700,000 people in Wisconsin are 65 or older but the state received about 70,000 first-dose vaccines each week, according to the agency.
“Older adults have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and prioritizing this population will help save lives,” Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm said in a statement. "Wisconsin systems and operations are ready to vaccinate more people. The amount of vaccine we get from the federal government will determine how quickly we can get these groups vaccinated."
Eligible residents may schedule appointments through their health care provider, pharmacies and local health departments.
Hospitals and other vaccinating entities that have vaccine doses available may provide vaccine shots to people age 65 and older before Jan. 25 if officials there have completed vaccinations for frontline workers and others in the first wave of the state's rollout.
The move to adopt federal recommendations to begin vaccinating everyone 65 and older comes after a state committee overseeing the state's vaccine rollout recommended vaccinating people 70 and older in the second phase of the rollout.
DHS decided to lower the age by five years last week after the Centers for Disease Control released new guidance.
For Kathy Braier, it means she may be able to visit her family and close friends with little risk before she dies.
Braier, a 67-year-old retired teacher and social worker who has Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, recently wrote to members of the state vaccine committee urging them to include adults 65 and older with medical conditions in the next release of vaccine doses.
"I'm very happy about this," Braier, of Wauwatosa, said. "I would be able to spend the time I have left to see my children — my three sons — and my granddaughter."
She said she's weighing the negative reaction she will likely have to the vaccine shot and the possibility of reducing her risk around her family.
Braier said friends of similar ages living in other states have been frustrated by the process to get a vaccine appointment. The vaccine rollout across the country has prompted massive confusion over how to get an appointment.
In Wisconsin, health officials say they are planning to create an online registration website in February to manage the logistics of connecting arms with shots.
"I'm hoping our state does a little bit better job learning from the chaos that is occurring in other states," Braier said.