Nebraska vaccine plan to prioritize certain ailments

Nebraska officials expect to release a plan in the next two weeks for vaccinating residents with underlying health conditions.
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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska officials expect to release a plan in the next two weeks for vaccinating residents with underlying health conditions after they were removed from the high-priority group of senior citizens that are eligible for a coronavirus vaccine right now, the state’s chief medical officer said Friday.

Dr. Gary Anthone said the plan will likely give priority to people on dialysis, who have lung problems or whose immune systems are compromised, such as cancer patients and recent organ transplant recipients.

“Those are the top three that we’re considering right now,” Anthone said at a news conference with Gov. Pete Ricketts. “Obviously, there’s a lot more than in that, but those are the ones we’d probably focus on first.”

Ricketts faced criticism after state officials changed their vaccination plan to exclude people with underlying conditions from the current phase of eligibility so they could focus on residents who are at least 65 years old.

He has defended the decision, noting that people who are 65 and older account for a large majority of coronavirus deaths in Nebraska and many of them also have health conditions. As of Thursday night, that group made up 1,727 of the state’s 2,078 COVID-19 deaths, or more than 83% of them.

Anthone said state officials need a few weeks to determine how to prioritize and contact patients, and where they’ll be able to get vaccinated.

He said he doesn’t know when people with underlying health conditions will actually qualify because health providers are still working their way through the current group of older residents. State officials have predicted that vaccinations might be available to the general public by late April or May.

The state has ordered public health districts and retail pharmacies to give at least 90% of their doses to the 65-and-older group, while leaving 10% up to local discretion. The first vaccination phase that focused on health care workers ended several weeks ago.

Nebraska has confirmed 200,403 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, according to the state’s online tracking portal. The number of people hospitalized with the virus has continued to decline since the record highs of mid-November, with 166 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Thursday evening.

Anthone said hospitalizations are likely dropping for a combination of reasons, including that some people have been vaccinated and more people have developed natural resistance after recovering from the disease.

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