Nebraska health providers, seniors to get vaccine first

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska’s health care providers and elderly and vulnerable residents will be first in line to get a coronavirus vaccination when it becomes available as early as this year, state officials said Monday.

Gov. Pete Ricketts and public health officials said they plan to give those groups top priority in their plans to distribute their limited share of the vaccine, once it’s developed and shipped.

The announcement came as Nebraska sees a record number of people hospitalized because of the coronavirus. The number of new virus-related hospitalizations jumped to a record-high 436 on Saturday, and the number on Sunday held fairly steady at 435, according to the state’s online tracking portal.

“We expect that vaccine supply will be limited early on, and initial doses will go to health care personnel and critical populations,” said Angie Ling, incident commander for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

States were required to submit their distribution plans to the federal government earlier this month as researchers close in on a vaccine to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Nebraska plans to dispense its vaccine supply in phases, using an existing state network of health care providers, local public health departments and hospitals, Ling said.

Initial doses will go to workers at hospitals, long-term care facilities, urgent care clinics and other health providers. Residents who are at least 65 years old and those with underlying health conditions such as cancer, kidney disease and obesity will also get priority. So will workers who are considered critical, although Ling said local health officials will determine who meets that definition.

Eventually, the vaccine will become available to the broader public. State officials said they don’t know how long it will take to vaccinate all residents who want the shot.

Ling said the state’s plan is a “living document” that could still be changed, but it’s designed to do the most good based on current scientific evidence. She said the federal government reviewed Nebraska’s plan and offered feedback but didn’t have to formally approve it.

For most people, the new virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Nebraska public health officials reported 582 new coronavirus cases on Sunday and have confirmed 63,797 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began. The actual number is likely higher because some cases aren’t reported. State officials have confirmed 596 deaths so far.

Ricketts said he doesn’t plan to mandate that people in Nebraska get the vaccine. The vaccine will be free for people who receive it because the federal government has promised to cover the costs.

“My anticipation is there will be lot of education with regard to the vaccine, but it will be voluntary,” Ricketts said.

Before the pandemic, the state’s distribution network was designed to help get vaccinations to children. State officials said they chose the

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All seniors could get COVID-19 vaccine by end of January, HHS head says

All seniors, health care workers, first responders and vulnerable individuals could be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar told reporters Wednesday (Oct. 21) during a news briefing

But this ambitious timeline rests on a critical factor: enough data to know that the vaccine is safe and effective. Not even the drug companies conducting late-stage phase 3 clinical trials know yet if their candidate vaccines meet those standards.

The question of “when” we will know whether those vaccines are safe and effective “will really be dependent on events in the trial. That’s outside of anyone’s control,” Azar said. In order to understand whether or not a potential vaccine is protective against COVID-19, enough people enrolled in the trial need to be exposed naturally to the virus. 

Related: The most promising coronavirus vaccine candidates

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which is testing one of the leading vaccine candidates in the U.S., expects to have enough safety and efficacy data by the third week of November. Assuming the results are positive, the company will at that point apply for emergency use authorization (EUA) in the U.S., according to a statement published online Oct. 16 by the company’s Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla.

But even if vaccines are approved, it’s not clear how long it will take to manufacture and distribute them to everyone in the U.S. As part of the government’s Operation Warp Speed, many of the leading vaccine candidates are already being manufactured prior to trial results. These vaccines will be ready to be distributed before they are given approval, Azar said.

By the end of the year, officials expect that there will be enough FDA-authorized vaccine to be able to vaccinate the most vulnerable individuals, Azar said. “Then by the end of January, we expect we’ll have enough to vaccinate all seniors as well as our health care workers and first responders. And by the end of March to early April, enough vaccine for all Americans who would want to take a vaccine.” However, he did not mention children, an age group on which the leading vaccines have not yet been tested and who will thus likely receive a vaccine much later.

Trust roadblocks

“Having a vaccine ready is one thing, being able to deliver it is yet another,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious-diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. “I think that process will take much longer than this timeline.”

One of the reasons for that is public skepticism on the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, which runs high especially in African American and ethnic communities that have been disproportionately affected by the virus, Schaffner told Live Science. Surveys have shown that as many as half of Americans do not trust these vaccines, he said. That’s because “this whole process is so politicized, unfortunately.”

When a vaccine is approved, assuming that it meets the standards of efficacy and safety and has been thoroughly vetted by

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