Health officials ask public to wait their turn, avoid ‘vaccine tourism’

Some Nebraskans have managed to get vaccinated early by going to pharmacies outside of their health district. Here's why officials are asking them to stop.

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Health officials are working to curb a growing problem they call ‘vaccine tourism.’

In Nebraska, there are two ways to get an appointment for the COVID-19 vaccine: through the state or through participating pharmacies that are a part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.

The state of Nebraska and independent pharmacies have separate online registration portals. As a result, health officials say some people have registered for a vaccination at a pharmacy outside of their health district, a practice known as ‘vaccine tourism.’

For example: The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department is in Phase 1B of their vaccine rollout plan, but with a focus on the 65 and older group. There are groups of people who have managed to get the vaccine at pharmacies in rural parts of the state, despite being younger than 65, and are able to do so because they are technically a part of the Phase 1B group.

“[Pharmacies] have vaccine, and they need to use it,” DHHS chief information officer Lori Snyder said. “So they sometimes are picking up people that aren’t exactly where they’re at.”

Health officials are strongly against vaccine tourism because it poses two major problems for the state. The first problem? It’s not fair to vulnerable populations that have been waiting their turn in line.

“It gives advantage to people who have more time,” Snyder said. “It gives advantage to people who have the ability to travel. If you get someone who isn’t computer-literate, doesn’t have a computer, and doesn’t have a car, that’s not very equitable for them.”

Another problem health officials have with vaccine tourism is that it can lead to wasting vaccine.

“Maybe [a vaccine clinic is] planning like they’ve got enough doses for 500 shots that day, but they can only fill appointments for 250 because half the people have gotten vaccinated elsewhere,” says Sara Morgan of DHHS. “That just raises the potential for wasted product.”

Experts say vaccines must be used within six hours after they are taken out of storage.

Both Snyder and Morgan say they expect that the state of Nebraska and independent pharmacies will have a common system in the next month or so, meaning people will only be able get their vaccine shots in their public health district. In the meantime, they are hopeful Nebraskans will refrain from engaging in vaccine tourism.

“There’s so many great things about Nebraska,” Snyder said. “One of those things is that we really try to look out for each other, we try to take care of each other. One real good way to take care of each other is making sure that we take care of our vulnerable populations first. “That means we don’t try to find shortcuts around the edges.”

Categories: Coronavirus, Health, Nebraska News, News