o-depriorization

I got my COVID-19 vaccination this week.

I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of needles — I will happily volunteer at any blood drive you sign me up for — but I just hate the pinch of the needle. My mom taught me a trick for this: say the alphabet backwards, and you’ll be so focused on the letters that you won’t worry about the needle.

It was something she probably expected me to stop doing in 5th grade but I still do it. Even earlier this week, arm ready to receive my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, I sputtered a haphazard reverse alphabet into my other palm.

My mom did not get her COVID-19 vaccination this week. She didn’t get it any week prior.

That’s because, on Feb. 18, the office of Gov. Pete Ricketts announced that Nebraska would no longer be prioritizing those with preexisting health conditions, causing thousands of Nebraskans with chronic medical needs to wait with the general public. My mother, who has been living for almost 20 years with multiple sclerosis, is among them. 

She’s the one who suffers from chronic fatigue. She’s the one who takes immuno-suppressant medication twice a year to slow nerve damage. She’s the best wheelchair-rocking, positivity-pushing mother I could ask for.

And I’m the one with a vaccination card — a student worker qualified as part of Phase 1B.

Nebraska’s decision to deprioritize those with preexisting medical conditions is not just foolish — it’s fundamentally dangerous. There is no acceptable excuse for sending such a vulnerable group of people to the back of the line to receive the vaccine with the general public.

As vaccines rolled out throughout the country, it was up to each state to decide distribution protocols. The CDC released recommendations on who should be vaccinated when, but states were well within their rights to ignore this qualified guidance.

That’s exactly what the state of Nebraska did.

In fact, this action isn’t even the norm. Out of all 50 states, Nebraska is the only one to explicitly deprioritize people with preexisting conditions and place them with the general public. 

Ricketts has since claimed a method to this madness. According to spokesperson Taylor Gage, “pre-existing conditions are no longer in 1B because our data shows that age has a bigger impact on deaths.”

This is a valid statement. Age certainly plays a role in the survivability of COVID-19 patients. We’ve all heard stories about the devastation of the virus in nursing homes or older communities across the country. Nebraska should absolutely prioritize older folks for vaccinations. 

The issue is, Ricketts is not just moving Nebraskans with underlying health issues back a square. He’s not just telling them to hold their dice for a round while the state’s elderly population completes their vaccinations. Instead, Ricketts is grabbing their game piece and hurling it through the nearest window.

If age is the most prominent factor in surviving COVID-19, the next deadliest factor is most likely health-related. This doesn’t take fancy numbers to figure out; it just takes common sense. 

My mom and I have both had COVID-19 before. My case was standard — fatigue and fever, a slight cough towards the end.

My mother’s case was pure luck. She suffered a pretty mild case of the virus, but it was almost much worse. 

She was only weeks away from a medical infusion designed to knock her immune system in the teeth.

Multiple sclerosis — a word I’ve always known and always had to explain — is a chronic illness where the immune system attacks myelin sheaths, which cover the nerves in your body. This manifests in a ton of different ways, from cognitive problems to mobility issues. When these symptoms become debilitating, like they are with my mom, one of the only ways to eliminate the symptoms is by taking aim at the immune system and weakening it. 

Many people with underlying health conditions in Nebraska have weakened immune systems. They are fundamentally — and by definition — not as likely to fight off the virus should they contract it. Only by a matter of perfect timing was my mom able to get a relatively normal COVID-19 case for a woman in her 40s. A few weeks difference and it would’ve been a different story.

This isn’t to say certain occupations don’t deserve to be prioritized. Workers in healthcare absolutely deserve to be the first in line for vaccination — and essential workers, too. They have kept our world spinning for the last year. 

But even considering other occupations, is Ricketts’ method not to prevent the most deaths from happening? Isn’t that the entire purpose behind prioritizing age over health conditions?

If this is something Ricketts is so passionate about, he should’ve had no hesitation vaccinating people with preexisting conditions the moment the last Nebraskan over 65 registered. 

Occupations are important, but they do not determine survivability. There are possible measures and phases that would allow Nebraska to work its way through valuable occupations while also protecting vulnerable populations. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing scenario. We don’t have to kick someone to the curb. 

Our vaccination system isn’t unfair because of hard decisions. Our system is unfair because Nebraska decided to ignore credible experts and other states to make it that way.

Instead of having the backs of Nebraskans with preexisting conditions, Pete Ricketts has turned his against one of the state’s most vulnerable groups of people.

Today, my arm’s still a little sore from the vaccine. It’s kind of obnoxious.

My mom’s always been good with needles. In kindergarten, I remember watching her inject herself with medicine every morning. When she gets her IV medicine twice a year, she plays solitaire on her iPad. She can’t give blood with her medications, but she’d like to.

I wonder if my mother’s arm would be sore like mine. I wonder if she’d find it obnoxious too. 

I hope I can get an answer from her soon.

Emma Krab is a sophomore English and journalism major. Reach her at emmakrab@dailynebraskan.com.