LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts said Wednesday that, if all goes well, Nebraska could get its first shipment of coronavirus vaccines by mid-December.
Pfizer already has submitted an application for emergency approval of its vaccine to the federal Food and Drug Administration, the first company to file.
Barring any glitches, Ricketts said, shipments of the vaccine could begin as soon as Dec. 12.
He said he doesn’t know how many doses will be sent to Nebraska, but distribution will be based on a state’s population. He cited reports that Pfizer would provide about 25 million doses nationwide by the end of December.
On a per capita basis, Nebraska would receive about 145,000 of 25 million doses; that figure does not include the 20 million doses another pharmaceutical company, Moderna, hopes to have ready by the end of the year.
Ricketts said it’s expected that the Pfizer vaccine would go to hospitals first because of the need to store that vaccine at a super-low temperature, 94 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.
The state vaccine distribution plan calls for giving the first doses to health care workers. Other essential workers and vulnerable groups of people would be next in line. It could be April or later before the vaccines are available to the general public, Ricketts said.
The governor made the comments at a Wednesday briefing about the state’s response to the pandemic. He continued urging Nebraskans to follow safety protocols to slow the spread of the virus, and continued to say he didn’t plan to impose a statewide mandate to wear masks, despite a growing number of cities that have adopted such requirements.
Ricketts, whose stated goal has been to maintain capacity in Nebraska hospitals to treat COVID patients, said that the state has yet to reach the level — 25% of all staffed beds used by COVID patients — to trigger new restrictions on public gatherings and the occupancy of restaurants and bars.
The number of Nebraskans currently hospitalized with coronavirus was reported at 936 on Wednesday. The hospitalizations would have to rise to 1,029 to trigger the tougher restrictions.
Ricketts said he didn’t know if the state would reach that level over the Thanksgiving weekend, but he and the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Gary Anthone, said Nebraska’s COVID-19 caseload has flattened out over the past few days.
In other developments at the briefing:
» Nebraska’s current teacher of the year, Paul Timm of Lyons-Decatur schools, told his story of surviving a bout with COVID-19. Timm said he came down with splitting headaches and then lost his ability to taste about a week after coaching at the state cross-country meet in Kearney in October.
Because of a shortage of substitute teachers, Timm said fellow teachers and school administrators had to cover his science courses while he recovered. When he returned to school 12 days later, he had to drive a school bus because infections had left the district without enough qualified drivers.
Nebraskans, he said, cannot adopt the stance that they can act like normal and that COVID-19 is “not our concern.” Timm asked people to make the same sacrifices and efforts that helped the state recover from massive flooding in 2019.
» Ricketts and the state’s former economic development director, Dave Rippe, urged Nebraskans to support “Small Business Saturday” by buying Christmas gifts locally.
Rippe, who now runs a development firm in Hastings, illustrated his point by presenting the governor with basket of nine gifts he purchased by walking through the downtown business district in the central Nebraska city on Tuesday and Wednesday.
It’s a crucial time, Rippe said, to support small businesses across the state.
» Ricketts said he’s seen anecdotal evidence that his recent, stepped-up publicity campaign to urge people to voluntarily wear face coverings and take other safety precautions is working. He brushed aside a question about imposing tougher social-distancing restrictions and limits on restaurant and bar capacity prior to the Thanksgiving weekend — as the City of Lincoln has done. Instead, he repeated that he’s basing his decisions on the availability of hospital beds to treat COVID-19 patients.
The measures that took effect Wednesday in Lincoln require restaurants, and bars that sell food, to close for sit-down dining at 9 p.m. and restrict capacity to 50%. Bars that do not offer food can offer only carryout, and indoor gatherings are limited to no more than 10 people, excluding employees. The restrictions in Lincoln last through Dec. 18.