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Nebraska vaccine website sees 54,000 signups on 1st day

January 29, 2021 GMT

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — More than 54,000 people signed up for a coronavirus vaccine on the day that Nebraska’s new registration website went live, state officials said Friday as they sought to assure residents that the elderly and vulnerable will still get priority.

Officials with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said the website’s launch on Thursday went smoothly. Nebraska residents can register for a vaccination at vaccinate.ne.gov.

State officials said the website will only allow Nebraska residents to qualify, and there’s no need to rush because the site will determine who’s eligible based on the state’s vaccination plan and not how quickly people add their names to the list. Nebraska officials have spent the last several weeks vaccinating front-line health care workers and are moving now to people who are at least 65 years old or have underlying health conditions.

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“It’s not first-in, first-out,” said Lori Snyder, chief information officer for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. “This will not disadvantage anyone.”

Snyder said the state has also set up a hotline where residents can register by calling 833-998-2275 or 531-249-1873. The hotline had taken about 700 calls as of Friday morning and answered all but 30, she said. The website was logging about 2,000 registrations every 10 minutes.

Residents can also call their local health department as a third option, although state officials are discouraging it because those agencies are getting bombarded with calls.

She said the hotline call centers are staffed with at least one Spanish speaker on each shift, and a Spanish version of the registration website will be launched in mid-February. The hotline also has services available for people who are deaf.

Snyder said residents who register will get notifications about their appointments and follow-up reminders to schedule a second shot, which is required for full immunity.

The service will send questionnaires after each shot to check for adverse reactions, Snyder said. It will also offer an option to cancel and reschedule appointments. State officials encouraged residents who are 18 to 64 years old to apply, especially if they have underlying health conditions.

Once vaccinations open to the general public, Snyder said the website will determine the order of appointments randomly, using a process the state won’t disclose. State state officials are encouraging residents to get vaccinated in the county where they live if they work somewhere else.

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Gov. Pete Ricketts said some local health districts are following the state’s vaccination plan but focusing first on the oldest and most vulnerable within the eligible groups. For instance, he said the Central District Health Department in Grand Island started vaccinating people who were at least 80 years old.

Ricketts said the Omaha and Lincoln areas are trailing the rest of the state in vaccinations because they have a lot more health care workers to vaccinate than rural areas. He said it’s also possible that more rural residents are declining to take the vaccine, allowing those regions to move through eligible populations faster.

State officials said they expect an uptick in vaccine shipments in the next few weeks, allowing them to vaccinate more people faster. Angie Ling, incident commander for the Department of Health and Human Services, said she expects a 16% increase.

Ling said the federal government offered to open additional vaccination sites, but that the state declined because Nebraska has enough locations and accepting wouldn’t have brought more doses.

Nebraska has vaccinated 2.64% of residents who are at least 16 years old, according to the state’s tracking portal. The state has received 254,000 doses so far and administered 161,548.

The number of people hospitalized with the virus is still declining from the record highs set in mid-November but remain elevated, according to the portal. The state reported 341 people hospitalized as of Thursday evening, and if the downward trend continues, Nebraska is expected to move into lighter social-distancing restrictions over the weekend.

The lighter restrictions would allow indoor venues to hold crowds at 100% of their capacity, Ricketts said. He also announced that people who are fully vaccinated will no longer have to quarantine if exposed to an infected person, but they’ll still be required to wear masks in public and monitor themselves for symptoms.

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Follow Grant Schulte on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GrantSchulte