LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska could gets its first shipments of a coronavirus vaccine in less than two weeks if the proposed drug wins federal approval, but health care workers will be given first priority and the general public may not get access until April, state officials said Wednesday.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said the state tentatively expects to receive 15,600 doses of a vaccine produced by the drug manufacturer Pfizer the week of Dec. 13. Another 19,500 doses from the company are slated to arrive the following week, plus 32,100 doses from manufacturer Moderna if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves that company's drug.

State officials are planning to receive more than 100,000 doses by the month's end. With roughly 34,000 medical personnel in the state as of 2018, according to a University of Nebraska Medical Center report, and each person requiring two vaccine doses taken several weeks apart, that would account for many of the doses the state expects to receive this month.

“Help is on the way,” Ricketts said at a news conference to discuss the state's pandemic response.

Nebraska's distribution plan, unveiled in October, places health care workers at the front of the line for a vaccine once it becomes available.

Health care workers who will get the first doses include doctors, nurses, ancillary hospital workers and others who are often exposed to coronavirus patients, said Angie Ling, incident commander for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. Elderly and vulnerable residents will also get priority.

Ling said more residents will qualify for a vaccinations as the supply grows, but “it's vitally important that those on the front lines of the pandemic stay as healthy as possible.”

A surge in cases over the last month is putting a huge strain on health care providers, and Ricketts has warned that he will impose tighter social-distancing restrictions if available hospital capacity continues to drop.

The state's vaccine distribution plan was developed because it's likely to take months to produce and distribute enough of the vaccine for everyone.

Moderna has said its vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective, while Pfizer reported that its version looks to be 90% effective.

Meanwhile, the state reported 62 more coronavirus deaths on Tuesday and nearly 2,000 more cases of COVID-19.

The state confirmed 1,080 deaths and 1,787 new virus cases, for a total of 130,194 cases of the virus since the pandemic began.

The number of people hospitalized with the virus declined again Tuesday to 869 from the previous day's 907. That total is now more than 100 people lower than the record of 987 that was set on Nov. 20, but it remains nearly four times higher than the level it was at two months ago when 232 people were hospitalized.

Nebraska continued to have the sixth-highest rate of infection in the nation on Tuesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska decreased over the past two weeks, going from 2,292.86 new cases per day on Nov. 17 to 1,783.71 new cases per day on Tuesday.


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