Top health officials agree with changing vaccine prioritization

After receiving backlash for the decision, many local health experts agreed with the Governor's call to vaccinate citizens solely based on age.

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Medical experts across Nebraska said Monday that they agree with the state and Governor Ricketts’ decision to exclude those with health conditions from immediate prioritization for the COVID-19 vaccines.

On Friday, the Governor held firm on the decision.

“The single greatest correlation here is age,” Ricketts said. “83% of the people who have died have been age 65 years and older.”

At his Monday morning coronavirus press briefing, Dr. Gary Anthone, the state’s Chief Medical Officer set the record straight.

“There are twice as many people in the 50-59 age group dying than everybody in the 49 or less,” he said. “And so we know that those people 49 and less will have comorbidities but when you add up the numbers, it’s pretty glaringly obvious that age is the number one reason for dying of COVID. So, I do agree with that.”

Infectious disease expert Dr. James Lawler, a member of executive leadership at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said that he too agrees.

“As a general rule, again, if our goals are to reduce mortalities as much as possible among the population and to be efficient and fast and vaccinate as many people as possible then going strictly on an age-based approach is a reasonable strategy at this point,” said Lawler, who has been recognized nationally for being vocal about the dangers and seriousness of the pandemic.

Bryan Health’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Trapp spoke on the same parameters as Dr. Lawler and Dr. Anthone, saying that it’s much more difficult to determine which health conditions might take a priority over others.

He said going by age is the most efficient way to vaccinate our population right now.

“Would it be ideal to take the time to prioritize people based on the immunosuppression or severe cancers, chemotherapy? Absolutely. But, how do you do that with the short compressed time frame that we have? I think that’s one of the challenges of the Governor and just trying to make it fair for everyone and age is one thing that’s easy to validate and medical conditions are just more complex,” he tells Channel 8 News.

Dr. Lawler said there should be exceptions, however. He hopes doctors will be allowed to make the call and identify when an at-risk patient should be able to get the vaccine before their age group if necessary.

“I think making sure we allow physicians some ability to make individualized decisions based on extraordinary risk factors is important.”

But, Dr. Trapp says making those decisions could be too time-consuming for physicians, and right now there’s no guidance on which high-risk conditions are most important.

“If we had clear profiles on that of what puts people at dramatically higher risk compared to less risk, I think that would be helpful,” Dr. Trapp said. “The challenges with saying ‘hey anyone under the age of 65 with a medical problem,’ that opens up tens of thousands of patients that make it difficult to prioritize those patients and we simply don’t have the time for health providers to prioritize those for the Governor. So, the thought of using age as a criterion certainly makes a lot of sense.”

But all doctors who spoke with Channel 8 say they agree that the older you are, the higher the risk.

“From all the data we’ve learned in the last year, somebody who is 65 and healthy is still more at risk than someone who is 35 or 40 and has some kind of underlying health issue?” asked Channel 8’s Marlo Lundak.

“Right, as a general rule I would say that’s absolutely correct. If you look at the mortality risk for somebody who is 65 years or older compared to somebody in their 30s, that mortality risk is probably 20 to 25 times,” Dr. Lawler responded.

The doctors say they understand the frustrations of those who have been living in isolation and have been waiting for their vaccinations. However, they say as you continue to wait for your shot, to continue to do what we know works – wearing masks, keeping your distance, and staying home when you’re feeling ill.

Categories: Coronavirus, Nebraska News, News, Top Stories