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Nebraska health districts can open COVID-19 vaccine to all Monday, Ricketts says

Federal Retail Pharmacy Program participants already open; greater influx of doses expected
Published: Mar. 31, 2021 at 9:24 AM CDT|Updated: Mar. 31, 2021 at 10:50 AM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - Gov. Pete Ricketts said the state will allow its health districts to open vaccines to all Nebraskans starting Monday.

The governor said Nebraska is ranked 12th in the nation by the CDC in vaccinations per 100,000 people, and 21st in the number of doses used — 80% of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination doses have been used.

Noting an increase in positive cases in the past three weeks, and an increase in hospitalizations since Monday, Ricketts reminded people to still take precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s a great time to be optimistic, but it’s also a great time to be cautious,” Ricketts said.

Dr. Gary Anthone, chief medical officer for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, said the state is monitoring for surges in positive COVID-19 cases. He acknowledged there had been an increase in cases recently, but attributed it to an increase in testing. Hospitalizations have been the key indicator for Nebraska officials, he said, noting that the state is on the lookout for spikes in positive cases of COVID-19 variants.

Dr. Anthone also addressed reports of Nebraska cases of “vaccine breakthrough” — that is, a person testing positive for COVID-19 two weeks after they have been fully vaccinated. He said 15 such cases are being looked into, but have not been confirmed.

“The vaccines are not 100% effective against, you know, getting infected by the virus,” Dr. Anthone said.

The efficacy of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been reported to be in the mid-90%-range, he said, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccination has been reported to be in the 70% range.

In urging Nebraskans to sign up on the state’s COVID-19 vaccination list, Ricketts said he received an email that he was eligible, as he is over age 50, and scheduled his vaccination for 1:30 p.m. Saturday at UNMC in Omaha. On Wednesday evening, the governor posted a photo of his wife, Susanne Shore, receiving her COVID-19 vaccination.

With the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program opening up vaccinations to those ages 18 and older, Nebraska will follow suit on Monday, April 5. At that time, the state will allow health departments to open vaccination eligibility to all Nebraskans.

Responding to questions noting that some health districts had already begun vaccinating those ages 18 and older, Ricketts said the state is already “dynamically monitoring” vaccine allocations to allow more doses in areas with higher demand.

The federal program will be expanding from about 17,000 to 40,000 pharmacy locations nationwide, distributing 5.1 million doses of Johnson & Johnson — more than doubling the number of vaccinations — starting next week. The allocation is in addition to Pfizer and Moderna vaccine doses also being distributed.

Ricketts said he expected Nebraska’s share of Johnson & Johnson doses would be more than double what it had been, but noted that the White House advised that J&J allocations could fluctuate in coming weeks.

Signed legislation

The governor opened his news conference signing two bills into law. LB 389 makes it easier for military spouses in Nebraska to obtain a teaching license here. Those who have been teaching for at least a year and have a teaching license in good standing in another state can now get a three-year permit to be able to teach in Nebraska.

Ricketts also signed LB 297, which allows banks to intercede when they think a senior citizen or vulnerable adults might be initiating a questionable transaction or otherwise may be in a situation where they are being taken advantage of, and gives the banks the option to delay a transaction for up to 30 days and notify a designated third party. Proponents of the bill say it gives banks a chance to be able to investigate red-flag transactions before money is lost.

The Nebraska AARP endorsed the legislation, saying that that one out of five older Americans experience financial exploitation with the average victim losing $120,000.

“LB297 helps protect the wealth, safety and well-being of vulnerable adults in Nebraska,” said Jina Ragland, advocacy director for AARP Nebraska, said in a news release. “Older Nebraskans are especially susceptible to financial exploitation because they often have sizable assets and are not always able to recognize when it is happening to them.”

Other topics

CORRECTIONS EMPLOYEE PAY: Ricketts addressed concerns about pay for corrections officers, noting that a contract had just been negotiated the union — signed in January and will go into effect July 1. The negotiated contract includes a pay scale double what some other state employees are getting, he said.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA: The governor again emphasized his opposition of medical marijuana, stating repeatedly that it’s illegal at the federal level, and arguing that it is a dangerous drug, especially for children and should have scientific and FDA approval before it is made legal.

UNEMPLOYMENT FOR IMMIGRANTS: Ricketts said he opposed a bill extending unemployment benefits to legal immigrants, noting a state statute that doesn’t allow government benefits for anyone here illegally.

“I believe it actually would cover people who are here illegally... so that’s why I was opposing that (bill),” he said.

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