As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in Nebraska, fewer than 10 percent of adults in the state have received the latest booster vaccination targeting the most prevalent variant strain.
Weeks ago, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator encouraged Americans to get the new bivalent booster by Halloween for maximum protection for the upcoming holidays.
Now that Halloween has passed, the amplification numbers both here and nationally are grim.
Only 9.9 percent of people 18 and older in the United States received the most recent booster, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nebraska’s figure is 9.6%
And even for the most vulnerable population 65 and older, less than a quarter, both in Nebraska and nationally, have received the vaccine.
“It’s a very disheartening and disappointing statistic,” said Dr. Mark Rupp, chief of the division of infectious diseases at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “I hope the public will take advantage of this new bivalent reminder to try to do everything they can to stay healthy and protected as we enter the respiratory virus season.”
When it comes to the latest COVID booster, Nebraska’s vaccination rate among adults ranks 32nd among states. Iowa’s 13.4 percent rate ranks 15th highest. Among surrounding states, only Missouri and Wyoming have lower rates than Nebraska. Vermont leads the nation with a 21 percent rate.
Nebraska reported 1,783 new cases of the virus last week, up from 1,383 the previous week and its third straight weekly increase.
Cases are now growing faster in Nebraska than almost any state in the country, and per capita cases now slightly exceed the U.S. rate. Nebraska’s 29 percent increase in cases for the week was the third largest among states, as was its 58 percent increase over two weeks.
But while cases in Nebraska are on the rise, they remain below levels seen in early September and are more than 90 percent below the peak seen during last winter’s omicron surge. It remains to be seen whether the state and the nation will see an increase in cases in the same way they did in the first two winters of the pandemic.
Nebraska added 12 new COVID deaths last week, bringing the pandemic’s toll to 4,562 confirmed or probable deaths. The state recorded 535,000 positive COVID tests.
Hospitalizations in Nebraska due to COVID were relatively stable last week, with a daily average of 137 hospital beds occupied by COVID patients. A nationwide combination of COVID, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has recently squeezed pediatric hospital bed capacity.
The CDC issued a health alert Friday about the early rise in respiratory viruses, noting that the increase underscores the importance of “optimizing measures to prevent and treat respiratory viruses.”
With the number of respiratory illnesses on the rise, Nebraskans should do everything they can to protect themselves, their loved ones, others and the health system’s capacity, he said. . That means getting their flu shots and getting their COVID-19 shots and boosters, as well as taking some precautions in places where viruses can spread.
Available data suggest that vaccines continue to provide good protection against severe illness, hospitalization and death, Rupp said. While protection against infections wanes after a few months, protection against more serious illnesses continues.
The data also suggest that vaccination protects against prolonged COVID, he said.
“Every time you have COVID-19, you’re rolling the dice,” Rupp said. “You could get really sick, or you could have those really annoying longer symptoms of COVID. And I don’t think people take the COVID syndrome that far into their risk analysis when they decide to vaccinate.”