Those with chronic conditions wait for vaccine in Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The state has departed from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance by not prioritizing individuals with chronic health conditions as it rolls out coronavirus vaccines in Wisconsin.

In leaving those with chronic conditions until later, the state committee that set Wisconsin’s vaccine priority failed to follow CDC advice that says people age 16 to 64 with “underlying medical conditions which increase the risk of serious, life-threatening complications from COVID-19″ should be vaccinated at the same time as essential workers and people 65 and older.

The state has completed vaccinations of most frontline health care workers, and more than half of the state’s seniors have received at least one dose of vaccine. But Wisconsinites with chronic health conditions are not prioritized, like Sherie Christie, of Hudson, who has lost 30% of her lung capacity to pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive disease that permanently damages the lungs.

“If I get this disease, my odds aren’t so good, compared to a regular person,” Christie said. “In fact, I’m pretty sure that most people ages 65 and up have better odds than I do.”

Nearly 90% of deaths from COVID-19 in Wisconsin have been among people 65 years old or older. The risk of mortality was one of the most important factors the state considered when it determined vaccine order, said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the state Department of Health Services, Wisconsin Public Radio News reported.

“But then they also considered risk of exposure, and what groups also posed a risk of ... spreading to other people,” Willems Van Dijk said. The state chose to prioritize grocery workers, educators and others with public-facing jobs because of the possibility they could transmit the virus to others, she said.

Another complicating factor is the sheer number of people who could be defined as having a chronic health condition. For example, nearly 1.5 million people in Wisconsin are considered obese, a chronic condition that is considered a risk factor.