Since the arrival of COVID-19 vaccine in Nebraska in mid-December 2020, frontline health care workers and long-term care facility residents and staff members have been getting their long-awaited shots to protect against the novel coronavirus disease.
Many other residents of the South Heartland Health District are anxious to get their doses of vaccine, as well, and are looking for information on how to do so as soon as possible.
Michele Bever, executive director of the South Heartland District Health Department, said her agency is being “inundated” with calls and emails from residents wanting to know when and where they can get the vaccine.
Hospitals and local health care providers’ offices across the four-county health district also are getting swamped with calls from the public, she said.
“We are glad there is so much interest in the COVID-19 vaccine,” Bever said. “However, the vaccine is still being allocated out in small amounts, and it takes time for us to get to all of the people in each priority group who want the vaccine.”
The priority groups are defined in the Nebraska COVID-19 Vaccination Plan, and the prioritization recommendations and timeline are subject to change.
The South Heartland district encompasses Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties. The health department offices are in Hastings.
Bever said South Heartland still is working through the first priority group.
“Everyone in each phase can be vaccinated as soon as there are enough vaccines available,” she said.
The first priority group (Phase 1A) includes health workers such as hospital employees, emergency medical services workers, and long-term care residents and staff. The group also includes individuals who work for developmental disabilities organizations and in behavioral health, home health care, pharmacies, the dental field and optometry practices, plus school nurses, public health workers, and many other personnel working in health care.
“We expect to complete the Phase 1A group in mid-January, but it will depend on how much vaccine we are allocated each week,” Bever said.
The second priority group (Phase 1B) includes people 75 years and older, as well as essential workers in critical infrastructure. Bever said essential workers include first responders (fire, police, dispatch, adult and child welfare), corrections staff, homeless shelter staff, utilities (power, water, gas, sanitation) and educators (teachers, higher education, support staff, and child care providers).
Phase 1B also includes workers in the food/agriculture sector (meat-packing plants, food processing, co-ops, grocery) and the transportation sector (trucking, railroad, gas stations, public transit.)
“We are expecting to be vaccinating people in Phase 1B priority from January through February or mid-March,” Bever said. “Again, the timeline will be dependent on the amount of vaccine we receive each week.”
The third priority group (Phase 1C) in the current state plan includes people 65-74 years of age and people with high-risk medical conditions. Bever said they hope to begin vaccinating the Phase 1C priority group by March.
“We expect much more vaccine product to be available by May so that we may begin Phase 2 of COVID-19 vaccination, which will be for the general population,” she said.
As South Heartland prepares for the next phase of the COVID-19 vaccination initiative, the department is developing a tool for residents age 75 and over to indicate their interest in getting the vaccine.
“Since we don’t know when we will have enough vaccine to move to the next phase, we are not able to schedule appointments in advance. However, we will be providing a web-based tool for residents age 75 and over to indicate their interest in receiving the vaccine,” Bever said. “This tool will go live next week and the link will be posted on our website and Facebook page.”
Bever said the health department and partners in the health district, including Mary Lanning Healthcare, Brodstone Memorial Hospital in Superior, Webster County Community Hospital in Red Cloud, and the Clay County Health Department, have administered 1,660 doses of COVID-19 vaccine since it began arriving in mid-December, including 243 second doses.
South Heartland’s COVID-19 Vaccine Dashboard tracks progress on COVID-19 vaccinations in the four-county district. Bever said other vaccine information and updates, along with links to the Nebraska COVID-19 Vaccination Plan and vaccine priority recommendations, are available on the health department’s COVID-19 vaccine webpage.