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Janesville teachers to receive COVID-19 vaccine ahead of schedule

JANESVILLE — Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services said it’s investigating plans by the Janesville school district to vaccinate its teachers and staff next week, even though the state hasn’t yet moved to the next phase of COVID-19 vaccinations.

But Gov. Tony Evers acknowledged that it’s likely too late to stop the district since officials have already announced the effort publicly.

The school district announced Thursday that it would not hold classes next Friday so staff can receive the COVID-19 vaccine. School district spokesman Patrick Gasper told WISC-TV the doses are coming from Mercyhealth, a health care provider and hospital system based in Janesville. More than 1,300 district employees would be vaccinated.

But the state is still in what is referred to as ‘phase 1a’ of the vaccine rollout, which includes inoculating frontline health care workers, residents and staff at long-term care facilities and first responders. Educators are expected to be included in the next phase of vaccinations.

Department of Health Services spokeswoman Elizabeth Goodsitt said DHS officials will be following up with vaccinators who are not following the guidelines and with Mercyhealth. The health care system said it’s working to find out more about the process.

The state health department’s deputy secretary, Julie Willems Van Dijk, told reporters during a conference call Friday that the vaccine is a federal asset and local vaccinators signed a contract to follow distribution phases and protocols. Vaccinators who finish the first phase should return excess vaccine to the state for redistribution, she said.

Evers, who was on the call with Van Dijk, said he wished there had been “some communication around that issue.” He didn’t elaborate but said that since the school district has publicly announced the vaccination day an attempt to stop it would create problems for people who have planned to take off work or get child care so they can get a shot.

“We would have preferred a different outcome,” Evers said, “but the fact of the matter is they announced it publicly and they will likely go forward with it.”

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