Starting Monday, April 5, everyone in Wisconsin age 16 and older is now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Tony Evers anounced last week.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) said that Wisconsin currently leads the nation in being one of the most efficient vaccinators for getting available shots in arms. 

And with increased vaccine supply and an accelerated vaccination pace in recent weeks, the state was able to push the eligibility date four weeks earlier than expected.

“We knew all along our COVID-19 vaccination program would be a massive undertaking, and we’re proud Wisconsin is currently leading the country in these efforts and that we’re now able to give all Wisconsinites 16 and older the opportunity to get vaccinated,” said Evers. 

“This marks a major milestone in our state’s fight against this virus and gets us closer to overcoming this pandemic and bouncing back together,” he said.

While everyone is eligible starting April 5, some areas of the state may have a higher demand for vaccinations and may have waitlists. Vaccine providers will prioritize anyone previously eligible such as public-facing essential workers and people with medical conditions.

There continue to be many options available for getting vaccinated, including through DHS, federal, and local community-based vaccination clinics, pharmacies, health-care providers, local and tribal health departments, and employers.

More information about each of these options is available on the COVID-19 where to get vaccinated page. Currently, the Pfizer vaccine is the only COVID-19 vaccine authorized for individuals ages 16 and 17.

To find a local vaccine provider visit the COVID-19 vaccine provider map or visit vaccinefinder.org. Individuals can also call the toll-free vaccine hotline at 1-(844) 684-1064 with questions or help registering for a vaccination appointment. 

“We have built a strong network of vaccine providers across the state. Every community is different, some providers may have openings and others may have waitlists but I assure you that anyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one in the coming weeks,” said DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake. “We appreciate everyone’s patience as we work to reach 80% community immunity in Wisconsin.”

Since the first shipment of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-authorized COVID-19 vaccine arrived in mid-December, Wisconsin continues to be a national leader in administering vaccines quickly and has administered more than 2.7 million doses. 

As of March 29, more than 1 million people have been fully vaccinated and more than a quarter of Wisconsin residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine.



Side effects

As more of the North Woods population receives its COVID-19 vaccination each day, people should remember that they may experience certain side effects, according to health officials at the DHS.

Showing symptoms is normal and can be a sign that the vaccine is starting to work. Common side effects include fever, chills, tiredness headaches, and pain or swelling on the arm where the vaccine was administered.

To reduce discomfort in the injection site, health officials recommend placing a clean, wet washcloth over the area. Those who develop a fever should drink plenty of fluids, rest, and dress lightly. 

Officials stress that it is important to get the second dose, even for those who experience side effects from the first dose, so the vaccine can work properly and provide full protection.

Those who receive the vaccine are considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19 if it has been two or more weeks since they received their second dose in a two-dose series (such as Pfizer or Moderna), or one dose of a single-dose vaccine (such as Johnson & Johnson).

People who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can engage in some social situations, including visiting with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing; visiting with unvaccinated people from a single household who are all at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease, indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing; and refraining from quarantine and testing following a known exposure, if asymptomatic.

Despite the recent lifting of the statewide mask mandate by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, it continues to be important that fully vaccinated people follow public health best practices in public spaces. This includes wearing a mask and physically distancing. 

Fully vaccinated people should also continue these practices when visiting unvaccinated people who are at an increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease.



Third variant found

It was announced recently that the DHS and Laboratory Partners confirmed a third variant strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in Wisconsin.

This variant strain, referred to as P.1, differs from variant B.1.1.7 and B.1.351, which have both previously been confirmed in Wisconsin.

The newest P.1 variant was first discovered in four travelers from Brazil who were tested at an airport near Tokyo, Japan in early January. According to epidemiologic and modeling studies, researchers have found that this new strain, similar to B.1.1.7 and B.1.351, spreads more rapidly and easily than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2. 

Emerging evidence suggests that B.1.1.7 may be associated with an increased risk of death compared to the other variants, but health officials note that more studies are needed to confirm this. More studies also are needed to determine if P.1 and B.1.351 are associated with more severe illness.

“DHS continues to monitor for new SARS-CoV-2 variants in collaboration with our laboratory partners,” said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ryan Westergaard. “Because these new variants of concern may spread more easily than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, it is important to get vaccinated when you are able. Vaccines, along with our other public health practices, give the virus less of an opportunity to spread and mutate.”

New variant tracking data is available at dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/variants.htm which documents variants found in the state. Updated April 4, data showed that 139 cases of variant B.1.1.7 and eight cases of variant B.1.351 have been confirmed in Wisconsin, in addition to two cases of variant P.1. 

“With emerging strains of SARS-CoV-2, it is essential to continue public health practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Vaccine is one of many important tools we have to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Westergaard added. 

“Studies show that the current available vaccines do provide protection against variants, but this is being closely investigated. Continue to wear a mask when in public, physically distance from others, stay home whenever you are sick, wash your hands frequently, and get vaccinated when you are eligible. If you feel sick, or are a close contact of someone with COVID-19, get tested,” Westergaard said.

At home testing is now available through the DHS. 

By visiting dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/collection.htm, people of Wisconsin can request a kit be delivered to their home, where they can then collect a saliva sample in the presence of a licensed healthcare professional via Zoom. Collection kits are then taken to a UPS drop off location to be sent in for testing.