In addition to adding people ages 65 and older to the next phase of COVID-19 vaccine recipients, Nebraska state health officials also are working with health care systems to further define what high-risk medical conditions will be included.
Angie Ling, incident commander for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, cautioned that the addition of those groups will add 400,000 or more people to the next vaccine group, a list it will take about four months to work through.
“Just know it will take time, so you need to be patient,” Ling said Thursday during a weekly vaccination update via Facebook Live. “We are very happy to see so many people want to get vaccine, and we will get you served just as soon as we can.”
The update comes after an announcement by outgoing U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar urging states to open vaccinations to more than essential workers and people who are 75 and older. The new recommendation calls for vaccinating people 65 and older and younger people with documented medical conditions.
Ling said Thursday that the state already had been working on plans to add that group. However, health officials still are about two weeks away from launching vaccinations for them.
While some public health districts in western Nebraska have begun vaccinating some people in the 75-plus group, those in more heavily populated areas still are working through the first group: health care workers and staff and residents of long-term care facilities.
Federal officials have not specified which high-risk medical conditions would qualify for inclusion. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified a number of conditions that put people at high risk, including cancer, diabetes and smoking.
The Douglas County Health Department said Thursday that officials expect the first phase of vaccinations to continue through January. The next phase would begin in February. The second group now includes the 65-plus crowd as well as those at high risk for severe illness and critical industry workers who can’t work remotely.
Douglas County Health Department officials expect to launch an online vaccine sign-up system up in the coming days.
Ling said the state plans to launch its sign-up website around Jan. 28. She said the department is working with Microsoft to make sure the website doesn’t crash, as has been the case in some other states.
In the meantime, people with questions may contact the state’s COVID-19 information line at 402-552-6645 or toll free at 833-998-2275.
The state is working on different ways people can get vaccinated through local health departments, health care systems and pharmacy systems, Ling said.
By next week, she said, every health department should be able to provide residents with a list of where vaccine will be available within their jurisdictions.