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Nebraska workers worry about new delay in getting vaccine

January 19, 2021 GMT

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska teachers and meatpacking workers worry it will take longer for essential workers like them to get the coronavirus vaccine now that the next group of people to be vaccinated has been expanded to include everyone 65 and older in the state.

The expansion of the next phase in the vaccination campaign, which is slated to start statewide next month, was announced last week. State health officials haven’t said how people will be prioritized within that new larger group, but the Douglas County Health Department in Nebraska’s largest city said Tuesday that people 65 and older will get the vaccine first in Omaha ahead of essential workers.

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Tim Royers, who is president of the Millard Education Association, said teachers in his district were disappointed to hear that they now aren’t likely to get their shots until March at the earliest. Previously, they had been told they would start getting the vaccine either at the end of January or in early February.

“We’re already seeing the impact, and it’s having a demoralizing effect on teachers,” Royers said to the Omaha World-Herald. Millard, like many districts in the state, has been holding classes in-person all year.

Eric Reeder, president of the United Food & Commercial Workers union Local 293, said he’s not happy that the food production workers he represents will have to wait longer to get the vaccine. Before last week, only people 75 and older were slated to be included in the same vaccine group as essential workers.

“These people are already in high-risk positions,” he said because meatpacking and other food plants have generally continued operating throughout the pandemic despite virus outbreaks at those facilities.

Health officials have estimated that it could take four months to get all the people included in this next phase of the vaccine campaign inoculated. But they said that pace could be accelerated if the state were to receive more doses of the vaccine than it has been getting.

“It’s a lot of competition,” said Phil Rooney, spokesman for the Douglas County Health Department. “Get more vaccine, and it solves the problem pretty quickly.”

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The state said Tuesday it has administered 106,940 of the 191,539 doses of the vaccine it has received so far. Health care workers and residents and workers at long-term care facilities have been getting the vaccine first in the initial phase of the campaign.

Angie Ling, who is overseeing the vaccination campaign for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, said the state hopes that the federal government will increase its allotment of vaccines “so we can get those shots in arms even faster.”

Nebraska reported 440 new cases and five deaths Monday to give the state a total of 182,418 cases and 1,842 deaths since the pandemic began.

Over the past two weeks, the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska has decreased from 1,003.71 new cases per day on Jan. 4 to 850.29 new cases per day on Monday.

The state said the number of people hospitalized with the virus remained at 429 Monday. That number is less than half the November peak of 987 but it remains higher than it was earlier in the fall.