LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska cleared a path Monday for adults of all ages to sign up for a coronavirus vaccination, but state officials said they’re still trying to overcome “vaccination hesitancy,” especially in some minority communities.
Gov. Pete Ricketts said state officials have ramped up their vaccination outreach efforts to residents including Hispanics, who are now catching the virus and getting hospitalized at proportionally higher rates than the state’s general population.
“Unfortunately, we know there are still concerns and worries about receiving the vaccine,” said Josie Rodriguez, administrator of the Office of Health Disparities and Health Equity, a state agency that has worked to promote the vaccine to minority groups.
Rodriguez said all racial and ethnic groups have shown some degree of “vaccine hesitancy,” but her agency is trying to reach those that appear especially reluctant. Hispanics in Nebraska are twice as likely to be hospitalized with the virus and more than twice as likely to die from complications, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. Similar rates have been reported nationally.
Rodriguez said the state is working with local multicultural groups and holding Spanish-language town halls on Facebook to answer questions and encourage residents to get vaccinated. State officials have also aired Spanish-language radio ads promoting the vaccines, and have told immigrant populations that vaccine providers won’t ask them about their citizenship status when they get a shot.
“We’re trying to make sure that all populations have the education they need to get their questions answered, regardless of what country they come from,” Rodriguez said.
On Monday, Nebraska gave all local public health districts the option to vaccinate residents who are at least 16 years old. Some rural health districts have already been vaccinating those residents after working their way through older populations that chose to get a shot. Ricketts has said he won’t mandate vaccinations.
Nebraska has vaccinated 25.1% of residents who are at least 16 years old, according to the state’s online tracking portal. The percentage is highest in the Two Rivers Local Health District, where nearly 28% are vaccinated in the area encompassing seven counties in south-central Nebraska.
The percentage is lowest in far-western Nebraska Panhandle, where less than 20% are vaccinated in an area that covers 12 largely rural counties.
The number of residents hospitalized with the coronavirus has ticked up over the last few days, from a low of 103 on March 28 to 132 as of Monday. The number is still far below the threshold of about 400 that would lead state officials to retighten social-distancing restrictions, but Ricketts urged residents to keeping using caution.
Nebraska has confirmed 211,958 coronavirus cases and 2,181 deaths since the pandemic began. A large majority of those who died were elderly.