By Shereen Siewert

People with pre-existing conditions in Wisconsin will become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine on March 22, one week earlier than previously reported.

Gov. Tony Evers and the Dept. of Health Services on Tuesday made the announcement in a news release. Residents age 16 and older with conditions such as moderate to severe asthma, cancer, diabetes and hypertension will be eligible next week. The eligibility group includes people with medical conditions associated with an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. See the full list of conditions, below.

Some residents who were increasingly frustrated at the lack of availability for people with serious illnesses say they are happy about the new rules. Mel Schultz, 42, of Wausau, is fighting breast cancer and said getting the vaccine will feel like “getting out of prison.”

“When I found out last month (people with medical conditions) weren’t included in the next round, I cried,” Schultz said. “It’s been so long since I’ve been able to see my family. You better believe I’ll be signing up the minute I can.”

Gov. Evers said moving eligibility for this group will help Wisconsin “get over the finish line and sooner, and get back to our Wisconsin way of life.”

Additionally, DHS clarified current eligibility to include all clergy as part of health care personnel who provide spiritual care to the sick, restaurant workers as part of the food supply eligibility group and further expanded public safety to include judges, prosecutors, and other essential criminal court personnel, in addition to public defenders.

The next eligibility group which will begin March 22, 2021 includes individuals age 16 and over with the following medical conditions:

  • Asthma (moderate-to-severe)
  • Cancer
  • Cerebrovascular disease (affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain)
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Diabetes
  • Down syndrome
  • Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
  • Hypertension or high blood pressure
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant, blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune weakening medicines
  • Liver disease
  • Neurologic conditions, such as intellectual disabilities and dementia
  • Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30-39 kg/m2)
  • Overweight (BMI of 25-29 kg/m2)
  • Pregnancy
  • Pulmonary fibrosis (having damaged or scarred lung tissues)
  • Severe Obesity (BMI 40 kg/m2 or more)
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Thalassemia (a type of blood disorder)

Current Eligibility Includes

  • Frontline health care personnel 
  • Residents and staff in skilled nursing and assisted living facilities
  • Police and fire personnel, correctional staff
  • Age 65 and older
  • Educators and Child care
  • Individuals enrolled in Medicaid Long-term care programs
  • Some public facing essential workers
  • Non-frontline essential health care personnel
  • Staff and residents in congregate living facilities

Depending on vaccine supply, DHS still anticipates that Wisconsin will be able to expand eligibility May 1 to include all individuals age 16 and older. DHS will continue to monitor vaccination coverage statewide and partner with vaccine providers in order to provide an updated vaccination timeline for the general public.  

People with the outlined medical conditions can access vaccine through a variety of options, including community-based clinics, health care providers, Local and Tribal Health Departments, and pharmacies. Wisconsinites with a primary care provider may hear directly from their provider. Visit the Wisconsin COVID-19 vaccine options page or call the toll free vaccine hotline at 1-844-684-1064 to learn more.

People who are fully vaccinated can review recently released post-vaccination guidance on the DHS website. For information, resources, and data related to Wisconsin’s COVID-19 vaccination program, visit the COVID-19 vaccine webpage.