COVID vaccine doses double for Kansas

COVID Vaccine taking place in Harvey County
File Photo. Nurse Emily Newhouse, left, gives a COVID-19 vaccine to Stephanie McCorkle, R.N., at Newton Medical Center. Wendy Nugent/HC Now

By Adam Strunk.

The federal government has doubled COVID vaccine distributions to Kansas, and the state could have its elderly vaccinated by the end of March.

“That’s the target,” Gov. Laura Kelly said in and interview with Harvey County Now. “That’s dependent on the doses we’re going to get through the federal government. That has been increasing. I got off the phone with the White House Tuesday. I was told we can expect 90,000 vaccines [per week]. They are ramping it up.”

Federal allocations directly to pharmacies should also increase the amount of vaccine in Kansas soon. This week, the program allocated around 10,000 doses of COVID vaccine to Harvey County.
Currently, Harvey County has approximately 3,200 seniors on its waiting list for Phase 2 of the COVID-19 vaccine distributions. The waiting list could also grow when the county expands it to more public-facing critical workers as outlined in the state plan.

Numbers better than national reports says Governor

The state has drawn repeated criticism in recent weeks for a slow rollout of COVID vaccine taking place in Kansas. A Wednesday New York Times article showed Kansas ranking as 49th in vaccination percentage. The state had vaccinated  8.3%, compared to the national average of 10%. State numbers Thursday placed the number at 8.5%.

The state did little better in vaccination distribution, according to the Times article. Kansas ranked near the bottom, with 58% of doses distributed, compared to the national average of 68%. State numbers Thursday listed the distribution count at 59.8%.

Locally, the running count kept by Harvey County Now shows at least 3,160 individuals should have received at least one dose of vaccine in the county by the end of Thursday.

That puts the county at a 9.1% vaccination rate, closer to the national average. The true rate is likely higher. The 9.1% number does not include nursing home vaccinations, which went through a federal program.

COVID vaccines are being distributed by the Harvey County Health Department weekly with clinics.

Kelly said that her administration and health department continue to believe Kansas has out performed what the federal data shows. Instead, the low numbers are caused primarily by data entry problems.

“Honestly, I really do think that’s the primary issue,” she said.

Technology and reporting issues with COVID vaccine effort

Kelly said that technology issues between the state and federal government have also resulted in under reporting of vaccinations. Kelly said her office has resorted to calling facilities that it knows have received the vaccine. The State of Kansas then checks to make sure the COVID vaccine been distributed and the data has been entered properly.

“Obviously, I don’t like Kansas coming up on any list like that,” she said. “We’re doing what we can to take care of the tech problems, but the recording for the vaccinations hasn’t happened properly.”

She also said that the state has developed a hub and spoke approach to distributing vaccinations. The state has very few locations capable of storing the Pfizer vaccine, which must be kept very cold. She said, at times, the vaccine has been distributed from those locations to vaccination sites, such as from KU Med to Wyandotte County, for example, and data entry hasn’t always happened properly.

“That kind of transport doesn’t get recorded,” she said. “It looks as though we have vaccines we haven’t injected or just lost. It’s just not true.”

Preparing for an influx of vaccine

There will be increasing burden on the state to distribute vaccinations with more becoming available, and some, such as the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is expected to receive FDA approval by the end of February. Other vaccines, such as Novavax, are completing trials. The Biden Administration projects enough vaccine supply for the U.S. population by the end of summer.

“In anticipation of great influx of vaccine, we’ve been developing a very robust provider network,” Kelly said. “We’ll be using pharmacies, private practices, community health centers, our hospitals. We’ve build out a distribution system.”

She said plans also include adding mass vaccination centers in locations in the state.

“We’re ready to do that,” she said, adding that the state hasn’t rolled such clinics out yet because of a lack of supply.

She said the state also has mobile units and can convert some of its units used as mobile testing sites into mobile vaccination sites.

Until herd immunity

Until the population reaches herd immunity–with 70% vaccinated or immune–Kelly said Kansans are going to have to stay vigilant in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“I’d like people to know, even with the vaccines going on right now, we need for them to continue with all the public health practices they’ve been doing,” she said. “We’re nowhere near the herd immunity we need.”

Kelly hoped the time of herd immunity could occur as early as late summer.

That hope depends on people’s willingness to receive available vaccines.

For those willing and able to receive a vaccine and now waiting, Kelly had a message, as well.

“I share their frustration,” she said. “I would like for us to be getting enough vaccines to do everyone yesterday. It’s not the reality. But I’d ask them to be patient, make sure they’re on those lists and wait for that phone call from the public health department or pharmacy. Your time will come, and it won’t be that long. You will feel safe. I know the relief people feel. We’re looking forward to being able to provide that relief to everyone.”