By GRANT SCHULTE, Associated Press
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska residents who are younger than 65 years old and considered healthy may have to wait another four months to get the coronavirus vaccine based on current distributions to the state, officials said Friday.
State health officials and Gov. Pete Ricketts said they’re currently receiving 94,000 vaccinations a month through the distribution chain administered by the federal government.
Nebraska has already been vaccinating front-line health care workers and people with ties to long-term care facilities. Under the state’s distribution plan, the next in line are an estimated 500,000 residents who are at least 65 years old or have a health condition that puts them at greater risk if they catch the virus.
State officials predict that 75% of that group will get a vaccine, which translates into a four-month wait for everyone else unless Nebraska starts receiving a larger number of vaccine shipments. Currently, the only two vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States are produced by drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna.
“If we get additional vaccines approved by the government … that will allow us to speed this process up,” Ricketts said during a news conference on the state’s pandemic response.
Nebraska’s two largest public health districts, encompassing Omaha and Lincoln, will start vaccinating people 65 and older and those with health conditions during the first week of February, said Angie Ling, incident commander for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. Fifteen other health departments in rural parts of the state have already begun vaccinating that group because their populations are smaller, and two others are expected to start this week.
Ling said residents will be able to get vaccinated at community health clinics, their local health care provider or at pharmacies that carry the drugs. The state also plans to launch a registration website on Jan. 29, along with a hotline for people who don’t have internet access.
Some local governments have already established registration websites, but Ling said those will feed into the state’s website to help determine when residents are eligible.
State officials previously predicted that vaccinations would be available to the general public by April. Ricketts said Nebraska has been able to distribute vaccines through a network of hospitals and other health care providers, but is limited by the supply it receives each week.
“If there’s more supply, we will find ways to get it into people’s arms,” he said.
Ling said Pfizer and Moderna are working to increase their production, which would allow the state to quicken its pace.
Nebraska had 421 people hospitalized with the virus as of Thursday evening, continuing a decline from the all-time high of 987 in mid-November, according to the state’s online tracking portal. The state has confirmed 185,346 cases and 1,868 deaths since the pandemic began. Nearly 83% of those who have died were 65 or older.
The state reported 864 new cases on Thursday, down from the peak numbers reached in mid-November.
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