This year began on a rocky note. COVID-19 cases have topped 250,000 in Nevada and there have been over 3,500 deaths since the start of the pandemic. At a press conference held earlier today, Governor Steve Sisolak announced the upcoming vaccination plan.
“The top priority under the general population is 70 years old (and older),” explained Sisolak. The Governor said he feels strongly about lowering age from the CDC’s guideline of 75 years to better accommodate families.
As of January 10, over 61,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered and reported in Nevada. This includes almost 9,000 second doses for frontline workers.
“It’s likely we won’t see the full impact of the holidays and gatherings in December until around two weeks from now,” said Sisolak. “We likely won’t see the full impact of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day until the end of the month.”
The Governor noted that data shows that Washoe and Clark counties are still experiencing very high levels of disease burden. In that context, he said that current mitigation measures will remain in place for another 30 days. “But just as we’ve said since the start of the pandemic, we will remain flexible. And if situations change, there’s always the ability to adjust.”
He reiterated that restaurants, gyms, and gaming operations must continue to operate at the existing 25% capacity levels and maintain strict social distancing measures.
“One notable change is that the top priority under general population is 70 years and older,” stated Sisolak. “Secondly, our primary is goal to ensure that we don’t let any doses go to waste.”
The state is moving away from the tiered vaccination response to a parallel track system. Once the frontline health care workers are vaccinated, Candice McDaniel, the Maternal and Child Health Director for the Division of Public and Behavioral Health explained that the state will begin a parallel vaccination line including both an expanded essential workers track and the general public, beginning with people above the age of 70.
“The general population lane is prioritized based on mortality, morbidity and other considerations,” said McDaniel. “We have recognized the importance of prioritizing our senior population who have been hit hard by the virus.”
“We are at a place right now where we need to scale up our response,” said McDaniel.
The new parallel approach will simplify prioritization by emphasizing and expanding frontline and essential workforce categories into “buckets.” These buckets will be prioritized from public safety to frontline community support.
McDaniel explained the new approach will now include critical industries such as education, public health, the food service and hospitality sector, mortuary services, and the essential goods supply chain workers.
“We are not receiving enough vaccine each week to move in a standard fashion across all counties,” said McDaniel. “So some areas will be advancing more quickly than others.”
“We are focused on the science and policy-based distribution model,” Sisolak explained. The Governor added that the taskforce wants to equitably distribute the vaccine across all populations in the state of Nevada, including historically underserved populations. This includes Nevadans with underlying conditions, disabilities, and those experiencing homelessness.
Nevada is one of the few states that is prioritizing people with disabilities.
Next up will be people from ages 65 to 69. That group will be followed by people ages 16 to 64 who have underlying conditions. The final bucket will be the remaining population.
Nevada State Immunization Program Manager Shannon Bennet said that once a dose was punctured they are good for up to six hours. “Both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can stay in the frozen state for up to 6 months.”
She explained that the challenge in a vaccination rollout is entering data, which takes about two minutes per vaccination. Over the past three days there have been over 12,000 doses entered into the state’s database.
“The latest stimulus package included more funding for state vaccination programs,” explained Sisolak.
“Unfortunately, the federal government only provides our allocation amounts for one week ahead,” said the Governor. Along with data entry, this short projection window makes it a challenge to predict exactly when people will be vaccinated. “We have expressed our concern for this to the incoming administration,” he said and added that he is hopeful this will improve.
“In Nevada we have received a total of 174,000 vaccines, including both Modern and Pfizer, with more set to arrive this week,” said Bennet.
She noted that the current limit of supply makes it difficult to determine when any given person will be eligible for a vaccine.
“Here in Nevada, we’re fighting to find solutions for all of you every day,” said Sisolak. “I know this incredible group of health leads, emergency managers in the Nevada National Guard are up to the task of doing all we can at the state and local level to communicate effectively with all of you. They’re building the largest vaccination operation in our state’s history. And they know it will be something that all Nevadans will be proud of.”
Richard Bednarski is a freelance photo journalist and graduate journalism student at UNR. He focuses on crafting solutions and advocacy-based stories that move the community forward. Support his work in the Ally.