Local officials say they are close to reaching their goal of getting 75% of the population 16 and older vaccinated against COVID-19, but they need more younger people to step up and get their shots.
Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Director Pat Lopez said the county needs to get 184,000 people vaccinated to hit that mark, and currently has given at least one shot to nearly 164,000 people, which is about 66% of the population 16 and older.
"To reach our goal, we need about 20,000 more people to get vaccinated," Lopez said.
However, getting those additional 20,000 people to take the shot could be difficult.
The pace of vaccines has slowed in recent weeks as older people have completed their vaccinations and the shots have become more widely available to younger people.
Only about 3,300 people in Lancaster County initiated a vaccine last week, down from nearly 23,000 three weeks earlier.
Less than half of those under age 35 have gotten at least one dose of vaccine, and it is showing up in case numbers and hospitalizations.
Lopez said that people age 10-24 accounted for one-third of all COVID-19 cases in the county last week.
Younger people also are accounting for more hospitalizations, with 42% of currently hospitalized patients in the county younger than 45.
Lopez also said that variant cases of COVID-19 are disproportionately affecting young people, with 31 of 57 confirmed variant cases in the county occurring in people younger than 30.
"We really need to get to a higher percentage of our 16- to 24-year-olds and 25- to 34-year-olds," she said.
Dr. Kevin Reichmuth, a Lincoln pulmonologist, said that 35% of people currently hospitalized in the U.S. with COVID-19 are under 50, and he noted that COVID-19 is "not just a benign cold."
"I would urge people in this population that has deemed themselves not to be at risk to get the vaccination," he said.
The local Health Department has shifted its focus from mass vaccination clinics at Pinnacle Bank Arena to smaller clinics in neighborhood settings. The department held a clinic Monday at the Center for People in Need and Tuesday at the Air Park Recreation Center. It also plans a clinic Wednesday at the Belmont Recreation Center, as well as a drive-thru clinics at Gateway Mall on Wednesday and Saturday and clinics Thursday and Friday at the Lancaster Event Center.
There also are plans for a clinic May 12 at City Impact and another on May 18 at the F Street Rec Center.
Lopez said she believes the pace of vaccinations will be slower moving forward, but she said she is confident that the county will reach its goal of getting 75% of people fully vaccinated.
She noted that President Joe Biden this week set a goal of having 70% of the U.S. population get at least one dose of vaccine by the Fourth of July.
"So I'd say we're doing pretty good here right now," Lopez said.
It's possible that the Pfizer vaccine could become available to children as young as 12 next week, if the Food and Drug Administration approves it, a move that is widely expected.
Lopez said that if that approval comes, the county has "already selected dates" to offer vaccine to children 12-15 years old, a group that numbers about 12,000 people.
Despite the slowdown in vaccinations, Lancaster County is seeing positive trends. The number of COVID-19 cases fell to 247 last week, down from 300 the week before. That was the lowest weekly case total since the third week of August.
Hospital numbers have stayed fairly steady around 30 patients, and there has not been a death related to COVID-19 in Lancaster County since April 19.
The COVID-19 risk dial stayed in the low-yellow range for the third straight week, but three of the seven indicators used in determining local risk are now in the green category, officials said.
As case numbers have dropped and vaccination numbers have increased, the Health Department has relaxed many of its directed health measures on things like capacity at indoor and outdoor venues. One measure it has not relaxed, however, is its mask mandate in most public indoor spaces.
When asked Tuesday whether dropping the mandate might be considered, especially in light of Douglas County's decision to end its mandate later this month, Lopez left the door open a crack to that possibility.
She said the department is constantly evaluating the need for the mandate based on case numbers, breadth of community spread and vaccine progress.
"We're continuously evaluating that, and as we move forward as a community, we expect there to be changes that are commensurate with that," Lopez said.
The cost of COVID: Remembering lives lost in Southeast Nebraska
They were teachers and farmers and factory workers and homemakers. They played the piano, fixed old cars, danced to the Beach Boys, cuddled their grandchildren.
They loved to ice fish, gab with friends, read, run marathons, bowl, wander antique stores.
They were our co-workers and neighbors and friends. Our parents. Our spouses.
They all have one thing in common. They died from COVID-19, a virus that arrived in Nebraska in March 2020, claiming its first life in Lancaster County a month later.
These stories represent a fraction of the lives lost in Southeast Nebraska, but they are our way of paying respect to each and every one.
We'd like to share the stories of others from Southeast Nebraska who have lost their lives to COVID-19. If you would like to have your loved one added to our online tribute, please email your contact information to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Roger A. Ryman, 70, died Oct. 20 from COVID-19. He was a cowboy in his younger years, but became a grandfather devoted to his Magnificent 7.
Jack Fields, 87, died of COVID-19 on Dec. 8. He spent his career fixing copy machines and making friends and creating memories for his children and grandchildren.
Phyllis "Phyl" Maly, 87, died of COVID-19 on Jan. 14. She was an artist, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and a woman at home in her own skin.
Beth Smith, 64, died of complications of COVID-19 on Jan. 20. The redheaded woman loved music and parties and adventure and was a loyal friend, sister, aunt and partner.
Lillian "Lil" Gibson, 61, died of COVID-19 on Nov. 2. The dialysis nurse and marathon runner was small but mighty with a big smile and warm personality.
Julie Koch: She taught us kids to be independent, strong, courteous, respectful and kind. Her pragmatic outlook on life earned her many friends wherever she was living or working. She rarely showed a temper, seeming to always take life in stride.
Wanda Darlene Hedges was a strong woman who raised her family on a farm near Bennet. Sometimes she worked at a nearby grocery store, but she was mostly a full-time mother.
Anna Sales, 69, died of COVID-19 on Nov. 6; four days later her husband Chuck Sales, 88, also died of the virus. The couple loved to bowl, travel, serve their church and listen to Elvis music.
Orva Samuelson, 95, died of COVID-19 on May 22. She and her late husband loved to dance and play cards and after she raised her daughter she became an Avon lady and turned customers into friends.
Tam Mai, 80, died of COVID-19 last May. The man from Vietnam was a protective big brother and a devoted son and grandfather who taught his grandchildren to study hard and be respectful.
Nadene Stull, 94, died Dec. 12 from complications of COVID-19. She lived a full life as a bookkeeper and mother of three sons who later went on to become a lay minister in the Methodist church.
Janet Ann Jodais, a caring mother known for her love of reading, crafting and church life, died Oct. 8 of COVID-19 in Lincoln at age 83.
This spring, the Journal Star set out to honor the lives of those lost to COVID-19. The families were eager to share the stories of those they loved.
Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.