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Mink producers could be included in Wisconsin’s next round of COVID-19 vaccines

Kaitlyn Riley

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A state Vaccine Distribution Subcommittee released recommendations this week for which groups should be included in Phase 1b for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine such as people 70-years-old and older, first responders, educators, as well as members of Wisconsin’s mink industry.

The State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee (SDMAC) established the subcommittee to create guidance for the Department of Health Services (DHS) regarding the allocation of the limited number of vaccine doses. The committee noted rationing available vaccines will be necessary until production and distribution increases.

The Phase 1a priority groups included health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities. Now creating recommendations for the second phase, the committee looked to public-facing essential workers who are at risk based on the essential nature of their jobs.

Under Mink Husbandry, the committee explained international outbreaks associated with mink husbandry resulted in genomic changes of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“These changes are concerning and pose a biosecurity risk for the current vaccine campaign,” the drafted report read. “Vaccine should be prioritized for this group to reduce possible mink variants of the virus that could result in spike-protein chances.”

The virus can be spread between human and mink populations. The subcommittee expressed concern after noting viral mutations associated with mink populations in Denmark included seven different changes to the spike protein, which could make the current vaccines ineffective.

In Taylor County Wisconsin, the National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirmed dead mink tested positive for COVID-19 in October. Wisconsin was the second state with the virus at a mink farm. Utah confirmed its first cases Aug. 17.

The report said Wisconsin has 21 mink farms in 13 counties with an estimated population of nearly 300 people who have direct contact with mink or mink pelts.

As DHS continues its considerations for COVID-19 vaccine distributions, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection Secretary-Designee Randy Romanski said he invites everyone in agriculture to take part by submitting comments.

“SDMAC considers all the needs that are out there, and they are following guidelines to make sure they try to get the vaccine out as quickly as possible to as many people as possible,” Romanski said. “We’ve been encouraging the agriculture industry to make sure they’re participating in that program so their voices are heard.”

The subcommittee is taking public recommendations until Jan. 18 at 4 p.m. They can be submitted to [email protected] with “vaccine subcommittee” and “Phase 1B” in the subject line.

Kaitlyn Riley’s passion for communications started on her family’s dairy farm in Gays Mills, Wis. Wanting to share agriculture’s story, she studied strategic communications and broadcast journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In college, she held officer positions with the Association of Women in Agriculture and Badger Dairy Club while volunteering as a news reporter for the college radio station. She also founded the university’s first agricultural radio talk show, AgChat. In her professional career, Kaitlyn has worked in radio, print and television news doing everything from covering local events to interviewing presidential candidates, and putting back on her barn boots to chat with farmers in the field. Today, Kaitlyn can be seen covering local stories that matter to you in the La Crosse area.

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