MADISON (WKOW) -- As educators become eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine next Monday, state health officials outlined Thursday how they will determine which districts get doses first.
While Group 1B officially becomes eligible to receive the vaccine next week, the Department of Health Services specified child care workers, K-12 school workers, and higher education staff will be at the front of that line.
DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk clarified the agency's guidance to vaccinators is to still prioritize the 52 percent of Wisconsin adults 65 and older who have yet to get their first dose ahead of anyone else.
When it's time to start providing doses in bulk for school districts, Van Dijk said the state is giving priority to districts with the highest percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunches and the highest percentage of students who are of color.
Van Dijk added vaccinators should not turn away educators who seek vaccine appointments after Monday.
"Any vaccine you have been allocated, you are welcome to give to educators as of March 1," she said.
Van Dijk said the prioritization system was designed in a manner that would help close the gaps of Black and Hispanic residents having disproportionately low vaccination rates.
She added it would also help get the vaccine out into remote rural areas where a number of students qualify for free and reduced lunches.
Because the process could lead to some districts waiting several weeks for their vaccination clinics, Van Dijk asked educators for patience and understanding.
"To our teachers and teachers' aides, and all the staff in our school districts across the state -- we're gonna get you a vaccine," she said. "We cannot get everyone one of you a vaccine on March 1 but you are all gonna get a vaccine in the next four to six weeks."
Teachers in Milton and Janesville have already gotten vaccinated through Mercyhealth, which decided on its own to use extra doses it had to schedule clinics for the school districts.
Van Dijk said with the state currently getting between 115,000 and 120,000 doses per week from the fedral government, about 70,000 to 80,000 doses will be set aside for first doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
DHS officials said they were optimistic the imminent approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would open up a lot more opportunities, particularly since it would be the first single-dose option available.