State officials said Thursday that the general population, people who are not among one of the phased priority groups, could start getting COVID-19 vaccinations as early as late April or early May
While that’s good news for many, there still is work to do before health departments can get to that point. The biggest job is completing Phase 1B, vaccinating those 65 and older first and then turning to workers in essential occupations, including teachers, postal employees, ag and food processing, among others.
Felicia Quintana-Zinn, deputy director for public health, said in updating its priority list, people with high-risk medical conditions were removed from the current priority group. The intent is to deliver as much vaccine as possible over coming weeks and months to the state’s oldest residents.
Gov. Pete Ricketts said Thursday the age is the single highest risk factor in determining who is most likely to likely to be severely impacted by the coronavirus. DHHS figures show that of the 1,801 Nebraska deaths where COVID-19 was the main cause or a major contributing factor, approximately 97 percent of them occurred in those over 50 years of age.
Vaccination efforts hit a snag last week when weather delayed delivery of some of the state’s vaccine shipments.
Angie Ling, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services incident commander, said the state received a couple of Pfizer shipments on Monday, Feb. 15, but as of Thursday morning the “majority” of its vaccine shipment for the week had not yet arrived.
Ling said she had no information as to when those shipments will arrive and the issue will likely cause backlogs that could lead to delays for the next few weeks.
“This is a nationwide problem, not just for Nebraska, and we’re working with our federal partners,” she said.
Ling also said that Nebraska pharmacies participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, which includes Walmart pharmacies in Blair and Fremont, had not received any vaccine as of Thursday morning. The retail pharmacy program was supposed to get its start in Nebraska the week before. Those wanting vaccination through the pharmacy program still are required to meet state eligibility standards.
When shipments do arrive, they are supposed to have more vaccine in each shipment and health departments are doing more with the shipments they get.
Ling said the state’s allocation of Pfizer vaccine for next week will increase to 18,720 primary doses, and the Moderna allocation will increase to 18,400 primary doses. DHHS also is adjusting its second dose ordering schedule so vaccine arrives within the window of time when it can be used instead of ordering it for delivery a week ahead of time.
Plus, starting next week, DHHS will be counting the extra doses in each Pfizer vial. Each vial will now count as having six doses instead of five.
Locally, Elkhorn Logan Valley Public Health Department is using up vaccine as quickly as it comes in. The department gave 210 vaccinations on Saturday, Feb. 13, finishing a week where it administered over 1,200 vaccinations.
ELV’s Melanie Thompson said the department only organizes immunization clinics for the amount of vaccine it has on hand.
“We are currently moving clinics to days when we hope to have vaccine,” Thompson said Thursday. “We are contacting those people who are affected by this directly.
“It’s one of the benefits of having appointments—we know who we need to contact and how to contact them.”
Anyone in the health department’s four-county area over 65 years of age who wants on the notification list can register online at https://bit.ly/2MAHBvB; or through DHHS at vaccinate,ne.gov. Adding your name to the list does not mean making an appointment for a vaccination, rather, it ensures that you will be notified of updates as they are available.
The health department augments its notification process through Facebook postings, but officials admit Facebook may not reach the audience they want to reach. As such, the department urges family members to help older residents who may not be as technologically savvy to get registered.
Expanding vaccine capability comes as the department lowered Burt County’s risk dial to 1.93, it’s lowest reading in several weeks. Figures released by the department Feb. 9 showed 61 active cases in Burt County out of the 602 diagnosed since the pandemic began. Figures show 530 patients have recovered and the county has experienced 11 coronavirus-related deaths.