Nebraska DHHS provides COVID-19 vaccine update

Nebraska City News-Press

As of the morning of Dec. 21, 8,985 Nebraskans have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine since the first shipments began arriving in the state a week ago, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

The first round of vaccines were targeted to hospital and health care workers providing direct patient care, as well as emergency medical technicians, paramedics and those who will be vaccinating priority groups in the months to come.

The vaccine distributed by Pfizer was the first to receive U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approval and be delivered in Nebraska. The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses spaced about three weeks apart to be effective. The same brand of vaccine must be administered for both doses.

Each vial of Pfizer vaccine provides at least five doses, with some hospitals reported getting an extra dose from a number of vials. FDA advised it is acceptable to use every full dose obtainable, which allows for higher than expected vaccination counts in this first round.

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine was granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the FDA over the weekend and the state expects to receive 32,400 doses which will be shipped to 112 sites across Nebraska in the coming week.

An additional shipment of 11,700 doses from Pfizer is expected within the week.  Over the next four weeks, 100% of the coming Pfizer allocation will be reserved and used to support efforts in our long-term care facilities as Nebraska will launch its Federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-term Care (LTC) Program December 28, 2020.

Vaccine distribution will follow the recommendations of the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), the federal entity determining priority groups for the U.S. ACIP's latest recommendations target vaccine doses to frontline health care workers, those in long-term care facilities and have added those age 75 or older in priority group 1B.

The COVID-19 vaccine is not yet available to the public. The CDC has not announced a date, but it's expected to be spring before sufficient supplies are available to begin mass vaccination.

COVID-19 vaccination will not be mandated in the state, however Nebraskans, and health care workers in particular, are strongly encouraged to be vaccinated as doses become available. DHHS is working with local health districts, federally qualified health centers and hospital systems to ensure an expeditious delivery process.

As data is compiled, DHHS plans to launch a COVID-19 vaccine dashboard sharing a variety of metrics and providing a picture of how the vaccination is progressing. 

The Pfizer vaccine was 95% effective and the Moderna vaccine 94% effective in phase three clinical trials. Comparatively, the flu vaccine is generally 40 to 60% effective. The vaccine does not contain a live virus and cannot give individuals COVID-19. 

The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, those who have experienced allergic reactions to other vaccines, and those with compromised immune systems to discuss the benefits and risks of taking the vaccine with their medical provider before receiving it.

The potential side effects from the vaccine are similar to those experienced by people who receive the flu shot: soreness at the injection site, fever, headaches, and body aches that usually go away within 24 hours. Unless symptoms worsen or linger, there is no need to seek medical care. Pfizer reported no serious side effects from the vaccine, and there were no deaths directly linked to the vaccine. The FDA and CDC will continue to monitor the COVID-19 vaccine for safety and effectiveness and any long-term or rare side effects.