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'Stay tuned,' Ricketts says on possible vaccine changes in Nebraska

'Stay tuned,' Ricketts says on possible vaccine changes in Nebraska

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Gov. Pete Ricketts

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts during an interview in his office at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Gov. Pete Ricketts on Tuesday said people should "stay tuned" on potential changes to the state's COVID-19 vaccination plans after the federal government moved to get more people the vaccine faster.

The Trump administration Tuesday announced it would release millions of shots it was holding back to ensure necessary second doses are available and also to prioritize giving the vaccine to people 65 and older and those with preexisting health issues that might put them at higher risk of coronavirus complications.

Currently, people age 65-74 and younger Nebraskans with high-risk medical conditions are in Phase 1C of the state's vaccine rollout program and are not expected to have access to vaccinations until March at the earliest.

Many health departments around the state are still focused on getting the vaccine to health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities (Phase 1A), while some have started giving the vaccine to people age 75 and over and essential workers (Phase 1B).

Ricketts said the state has been having discussions with hospitals and local health departments about possible adjustments to the vaccine schedules and will likely provide more information in the coming days.

"Stay tuned," he said. "You will see that we will be making some changes with regard to 65 years and older."

But he implored people to "please do not call your local health departments." Directions on how older Nebraskans can get scheduled for a vaccination are coming soon.

Bob Ravenscroft, vice president of advancement at Bryan Health, said Bryan was contacted last week about patients in its health networks who are 75 and older and now has been asked for information about patients 65 and older. He said he assumes other local health providers have been contacted as well.

"I think that is all geared toward how many (vaccinations) do we need here for this next wave of public vaccinations," he said.

The governor said that if more vaccine doses are being released to states by the federal government, then state officials will work to get those doses out faster. However, he said that Nebraska will continue to follow manufacturer guidance about giving two doses of the shots. The Pfizer shot requires a second dose within 21 days, while the gap is 28 days for the Moderna vaccine.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday in a news release that more than 38,000 vaccine doses were given last week. According to the state's coronavirus dashboard, more than 68,000 people have received a vaccination to date, including about 10,000 who have received the required two shots for full vaccine effectiveness.

More than 40% of the state's 90,000 health care workers have received at least one vaccine dose.

Though Nebraska so far has only gotten two doses to about 0.7% of its population of people 16 and older, it ranked fifth among the states in per-capita vaccination rate and sixth in getting vaccine doses distributed as of Monday.

Ricketts called the vaccines a "miracle of modern medicine" but said people will need to continue to take precautions, at least through the first half of the year, to slow the spread of the virus.

"We've got several more months, folks, of fighting this pandemic," he said.

To that end, Ricketts said he was extending an executive order allowing public meetings to be held virtually until the end of April. It had been scheduled to end at the end of January.

PHOTOS: LINCOLN DURING THE PANDEMIC

Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.

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