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Public Health

Sisolak Announces COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout In Nevada By Mid-December

A close up of an older man, in a blue surgical mask, from the shoulders up. There is a beige, out of focus wall behind the man.
David Calvert
Nevada Independent
Governor Steve Sisolak during a press conference on July 9, 2020 in the former Assembly chambers inside the Capitol in Carson City.

Nevada could be receiving COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as mid-December.

The vaccine will be distributed in a tiered approach. Who’s in that first group? Health care providers and other frontline workers like law enforcement and staff in correctional facilities. Other high-risk groups like staff and residents of long term care facilities will also be among the first.

The state has identified 173,000 Nevadans in tier one, but it’s unclear exactly how many doses will arrive in the first shipment.

During a press conference Wednesday, Gov. Steve Sisolak said the vaccine is a positive sign, especially while the state sees a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

“Our numbers haven’t been great. I get that. Everybody understands that. But we have hope now. A vaccine is coming. Within weeks we will begin distributing and giving people needle sticks,” Sisolak said.

But, some are asking to be considered for early vaccination. The Nevada State Education Association, a teachers’ union, released a statement shortly after Sisolak’s press conference, requesting that educators be prioritized. Educational and childcare staff are currently in tier two.

With reported large outbreaks at correctional facilities in Nevada, some reporters raised questions about how the tiers were determined. Specifically, why correctional staff are in tier one, but inmates are not.

Shannon Bennett, the immunization program manager for the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health explained why staff should be vaccinated first.

“That is because the correctional staff move in and out of those facilities, to work, and then back into the community, and can increase spread within that particular system,” Bennet said.

Even though more than 60% of the staff at Warm Springs Correctional Center in Carson City have tested positive for COVID-19, nearly 90% of the inmates have as well.

But determining who gets priority isn’t the only challenge to the vaccine rollout.

Immunization rates in Nevada typically rank pretty low compared to the rest of the country. During the 2019/2020 flu season, the statewide vaccination rate was at a mere 44%, the lowest nationwide. That’s according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report.

To make matters more complicated, the COVID-19 vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna will require two doses. Washoe County Health District Officer Kevin Dick said public health officials will have their work cut out for them.

“Well, obviously it’s more challenging that there is a second dose versus the flu shot where, you know, you get it in somebody’s arm and they’re good to go. So, we will be working to make sure that people understand that they have to come back for that second dose,” Dick said.

Once the vaccine is available, Washoe will follow state guidelines for distribution. One of the immunization sites will be the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center, where the health district is currently conducting COVID-19 testing. Hospitals may also receive vaccines directly for their staff. And drug stores like CVS and Walgreens will administer the vaccine to people at long term care facilities.

There is no set date for when the general public will receive the vaccine, but officials estimate late spring.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

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