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Nebraska official says elderly will get COVID vaccine before teachers, other essential workers
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Nebraska official says elderly will get COVID vaccine before teachers, other essential workers

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COVID Vaccine, 12.31

A Moderna COVID-19 vaccine vial is seen at Havelock Manor.

Some teachers in Nebraska got the COVID-19 vaccine this week, but the wait could be longer for the rest as the state makes the elderly a higher priority to get the vaccine.

State officials said they’re updating the state’s vaccination plan to clarify that people 75 and older should receive the vaccine ahead of teachers and other essential workers in the 1B priority group.

The update comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its vaccination recommendations to add persons 75 and older to the 1B group.

Health care workers and long-term care residents and staff are in the 1A priority group, which was first to get the vaccine.

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“The 75-and-older population will be a priority within 1B,” said Angela Ling, incident commander with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. “So once we get through that health care (phase), 75-and-older will be the first target area. After that will be the first responders and educators, et cetera.”

When educators are vaccinated, the state will rely on local school leaders to determine which of their employees are so essential to keeping schools operating that they should be offered the vaccination.

It’s likely that cafeteria workers, who feed children; janitors, who clean facilities; and paraprofessionals and substitutes, who support classroom teachers, would be deemed essential and be eligible for the shots.

Ling said that people should expect the vaccine rollout to occur at a different pace in different parts of the state because of varied local conditions, including differences in rural and urban areas, and people’s eagerness or hesitancy to get it.

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About 100 staff members in the Scottsbluff Public Schools were vaccinated this week. Scottsbluff Superintendent Rick Myles said about two-thirds of his employees were willing to get the vaccine. They were offered the Moderna vaccine.

He said there was “a short window” when his district had an opportunity to get staff vaccinated.

Kim Engel, director of the Panhandle Public Health District, said the Scottsbluff clinic was scheduled before the state made clear that those 75 and older would be the priority for 1B.

“We had more vaccine available,” she said. “The people in 1A that wanted it have been given the opportunity.”

Engel said the metropolitan areas will take longer to get their numerous health care providers vaccinated, while rural areas can move through that phase quicker.

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Getting those 75 and older vaccinated will take time as well, she said.

Once Nebraska’s health care population is vaccinated, along with any long-term care facilities that are not attached to the federal pharmacy program, the state vaccination effort can be focused on the 1B population, Ling said.

Ling said the vaccination of Scottsbluff teachers didn’t break any rules. Officials followed the plan in place at the time, she said.

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But the update to the state’s plan will shift the 1B focus to the most elderly initially.

“That vulnerable population will be taken care of ahead of other folks within the 1B grouping,” she said.

Ling said the state wants vaccines used, not sitting on a shelf while waiting for the perfect time to administer them.

“The best place for a vaccine is in someone’s arm, not in a refrigerator or freezer,” she said.

She said the department is not creating “hard-and-fast” rules to specify which employees within a school system will be offered the vaccine. State officials will rely on local school leaders to identify their essential workers, she said.

“We want them to make those decisions,” she said.

“The way we look at it is, ‘Who needs to be at the facility to keep the school running?’” she said.

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Janitors who keep the school clean and sanitized could be deemed essential while an administrator who does his or her job remotely may have to wait to get the vaccine, she said.

Substitutes and paraprofessionals could get the vaccine if a district deems them necessary to keeping a school open, she said.

“For substitute teachers, they probably won’t vaccinate their entire population or pool of substitute teachers,” she said. “But the teachers that are actively substituting on a frequent basis, those folks will also be included."

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