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Class-action lawsuit filed over Nevada vaccine distribution

A Las Vegas attorney filed a class-action lawsuit Monday urging Gov. Steve Sisolak to prioritize COVID-19 vaccinations for those 65 and older.

Las Vegans Daniel Itzhaki, 74, and Natalie Hetly, 70, were named in the federal complaint as those among an “especially vulnerable and protected class, more susceptible to comorbidities and serious bodily harm or death from COVID-19.”

At the time that attorney Sigal Chattah filed the lawsuit, which also names Nevada’s chief medical officer, Dr. Ihsan Azzam, and Attorney General Aaron Ford as defendants, the state had a tiered system of vaccine distribution, which gave priority to those 75 and older.

The lawsuit called Nevada’s tiered immunization plan “arbitrary,” accusing state officials of violating constitutional rights, including the protection from cruel and unusual punishment, of vulnerable people precluded from the initial round of vaccinations.

But at a news conference Monday evening, Sisolak moved those 70 and older to the highest priority.

Chattah said that was not enough, arguing that Sisolak could have pushed to vaccinate more people quickly.

“The infrastructure is there,” the attorney said. “They’re just not utilizing it because they’re incompetent.”

Chattah said Itzhaki and Hetly were both heart patients who had not received the vaccine.

“It is indisputable that Defendants have no viable empirical data to preclude such a vulnerable and protected class from obtaining priority vaccinations,” Chattah wrote in the complaint, “specifically when Defendants have earmarked special COVID-19 access to grocery stores to Nevada’s elderly population at the inception of the pandemic measures, knowing this classes vulnerability.”

By Monday, 3,500 people in Nevada had died of the coronavirus, while COVID-19 infections surpassed 250,000.

As of Sunday, 61,644 doses of vaccine have been administered and reported to the state, including 8,700 second doses for Nevadans first immunized in December, said Shannon Bennett, state immunization program manager. Nevada has received a total of 170,400 doses to date with more coming this week, she said.

Chattah claimed in the lawsuit that the state had received 205,200 as of Monday, pointing to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The lawsuit accused the defendants of acting with “reckless disregard to the elderly population by hoarding the vaccines distributed to the State and failing to efficiently and productively vaccinate this population group.”

Through a spokeswoman, the governor declined to comment on the lawsuit, but in the news conference Monday evening, Sisolak said he had “recognized the importance of prioritizing our senior population … We all share the same goal of getting the vaccine to Nevadans faster.”

Contact David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @randompoker on Twitter.

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