La Crosse medical expert explains why grocery store workers are not included in phase 1B vaccinations

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Plans for the next phase of distributing the vaccine locally and statewide are not yet finalized.

But we found out today Wisconsinites aged 65 and older will be part of phase 1B.

Wisconsin just started vaccinating healthcare workers and other long-term care residents last month.

“The recognition is every, single person who wants vaccine deserves to get vaccine,” Gundersen Health System department director of bioethics and humanities Dr. Tom Harter said.

The CDC recommends that grocery store workers be included in the next phase of COVID vaccinations. But in Wisconsin, that’s not necessarily the case.

“The issue is that we have more demand than supply,” Harter said.

These are difficult decisions based on who is most at risk and who can protect themselves most from the virus, decisions that Harter is regularly a part of on the state’s vaccine allocation panel.

“When we were looking at phase 1A, it was pretty easy,” Harter said. “We had healthcare workers. We knew where they were. We could identify them pretty easily and get vaccine to them relatively easily.”

People 65 and older are at a higher risk and easier for vaccinators to identify at the beginning of phase 1B.

“This is the population that has died at the highest rates,” Wisconsin Department of Health Services deputy secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said. “And therefore, the population we want to protect first.”

The state closely looks at federal recommendations.

“We largely follow them,” Harter said. “There’s wiggle room because of cultural differences between states and jurisdictions.”

Harter says some groups not included in the next phase doesn’t mean they don’t matter.

“They most certainly do,” Harter said.

But there’s only so much vaccine to give out right now.

“We’re trying to make these really tough decisions in the fairest way possible,” Harter said.

The phase 1B allocation process is open to public comment before recommendations are made by the state’s Disaster Medical Advisory Committee. The committee is expected to send final recommendations to the state by the end of this week.

The DHS says people 65 and older who want to get vaccinated should contact the place they would normally get their flu shot, whether that’s your doctor or local pharmacy.