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Ricketts shares details on Nebraska COVID-19 vaccine death investigation

After touting additions made to the state’s vaccination dashboard, officials say they’re not yet able to pull data on discarded doses
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts gives an update on the state's COVID-19 response during a news...
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts gives an update on the state's COVID-19 response during a news conference Friday morning, Jan. 29, 2021.
Published: Feb. 12, 2021 at 9:54 AM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - Gov. Pete Ricketts on Friday shared a few more details on the CDC’s investigation into how the COVID-19 vaccination may have contributed to the January death of a Nebraskan in their 40s.

Typically, he said, a vaccination death is caused by a severe allergic reaction, which is why those receiving the vaccine are usually asked to wait around for about 15 minutes after receiving it — but that was likely not the cause in this instance.

“In this case, the person passed away one or two weeks after they have received the first dose of the vaccine, so it was not an anaphylactic reaction,” Ricketts said during his Friday morning news conference. “It’s not clear that this person died because of the vaccine it was list and one of the causes on the death certificate but that’s why we do the investigation.”

Some information about the death won’t be able to be shared in order to protect the privacy of that person, but officials will try to provide as many details as they can as the investigation progresses, the governor said.

Dr. Gary Anthone, Nebraska’s chief medical officer, agreed that it was unlikely the Nebraskan who died 10 to 14 days after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine experienced an anaphylactic reaction to it.

The COVID-19 vaccines “have had a very safe profile,” he said. The Pfizer vaccine has had 5 anaphylactic reactions reported per million vaccination doses and the Moderna vaccine has had 3 anaphylactic reactions reported per million doses. That’s on par with flu vaccinations as well as measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination shots, Anthone said.

The governor said about 165,000 Nebraskans have received COVID-19 vaccinations to date.

“It would be very unusual to have somebody die 10 days to two weeks after receiving the vaccination, so that’s why we need this (CDC) investigation,” Anthone said.

Talking more about the vaccine rollout, Ricketts reiterated that Nebraska was in Phase 1B, prioritizing those ages 65 and older, but noted that there may be some rare exceptions where someone who doesn’t “exactly fit the profile” of the current age group gets a vaccine. That’s because when clinics have some leftover doses, they look to those in other upcoming priority groups to vaccinate so no doses go to waste, he said, noting there’s no “stand-by” list.

In the registry system, providers can note when they’ve had to discard a vaccination dose, but the system isn’t capable of extracting that information at this time, DHHS Chief Data Strategist Ashley Newmyer said.

Officials wouldn’t give details on doses of COVID-19 vaccine the state may have had to throw out.

A spokesman with the Douglas County Health Department said Friday that DCHD has “discarded one dose due to a needle failure.” Other than that, he said, the department has a “call down list” for extra doses, “so they are all getting used.”

Ricketts said the federal government chose 33 of the 43 pharmacies that applied for the retail pharmacy vaccine allocations, he said. The governor was again critical of the federal government’s handling of the retail pharmacy program rollout, saying the state’s health districts didn’t get enough of a heads-up to begin planning for this part of the vaccine rollout.

The governor said the state’s record in COVID-19 vaccine distribution via local health departments has been faster and more timely than that of the federal pharmacy program. He said officials are working on a plan to use any FEMA aid the state might get to replace volunteers helping with testing and vaccine administration with paid staff.

WEATHER WARNING: Ricketts also warned Nebraskans of the extreme cold weather predicted for the weekend and urged them to stay home if they don’t have a need to go out — or to make sure they have a cold-weather preparedness kit with them if they do.

Watch Friday’s news conference

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