Ricketts, Officials Encourage Students to Get Vaccinated


Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts speaks at a news conference at the Douglas County Health Department building in Omaha, Monday May 17, 2021. (Derek Noehren/Daily Record)
By 
Derek Noehren
The Daily Record

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts led a collaborative effort encouraging students to get vaccinated for COVID-19 at a news conference Monday at the Douglas County Health Department in Omaha.

Ricketts, who was joined by health and education officials, began by saying vaccines are “widely available and completely voluntary” before his call to action.

“Please take the time to get the vaccine. Vaccines work,” Ricketts said. “We know vaccines work because we can see the results here in the state. Hospitalizations have fallen below 100 for the first time since last July, case counts are dropping, and we’ve seen things get back to normal.”

After a year of remote and hybrid-model learning, Omaha Public Schools plans to have students back in the building in mid-August. OPS has not made any concrete rules on exactly how this school year will look in terms of COVID-19 precautions, but they are partnering with the Douglas County Health Department to helpinform students and parents, as well as assist with protocol.

“We will be giving parents the advice that is given to us, and I look forward to welcoming, quite frankly, all of our youngsters back for a happy healthy start to the school year,” OPS Superintendent Cheryl Logan said. “Our students and families have an important opportunity to protect themselves with a vaccine against COVID-19. We encourage all eligible students and families to thoughtfully consider the option.”

When asked about mask requirements in the fall, Logan deferred to county health officials and took a wait-and-see approach. The governor, however, predicted a “normal” return to school in the fall.

“Given where we are right now, it’s my expectation that we will not need these pandemic restrictions this fall,” Ricketts said.

Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services CEO Dannette Smith said state officials are still working to encourage younger people to get vaccinated, including those ages 12 to 15 who are now eligible for the Pfizer vaccine.

“We want you to be able to do it and we want to make it as painless and easy for you as possible,” Smith said.

Nebraska has fully vaccinated 52% of residents who are 16 or older, as of Monday according to the state’s tracking website. However, the number of new daily vaccinations has trended downward since hitting a high of 23,910 on April 12.

Dr. Sharon R. Stoolman is a piediatric specialist at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center. She said that she understands why children and their parents have questions and concerns. She said vaccine hesitancy “is not annoying because you love your child and want to make good decisions,”

 “We want you to feel good about your decision and not have regret,” Stoolman said. “It’s about having those critical conversations and allowing that time period for people to process that. Hopefully by August everyone will have had a chance.”

The COVID-19 vaccine will not be required by OPS due to its emergency-use authorization, used to facilitate the availability and use of medical countermeasures during a public health emergency. This differs from other vaccinations that are required to attend public or private school in Nebraska, like vaccines for Polio, Measles and Hepatitis B, Chicken Pox and Diphtheria.

“I agree that because it is an emergency-use authorization, we have to have that openness and grace to say we’re not mandating this, but (tell people) this is the safety, this is what I’ve done with my child,” Stoolman said.

To sign up, or for more information, visit vaccinate.ne.gov, or by contacting your local health department, pharmacy or walk-up clinics. If you have questions or need assistance filling out the online registration, call 833-998-2275 or 531-249-1873.

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