Kansas lawmakers fear setbacks in state vaccine rollout

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT)— As the state faces problems with recording vaccinations and a lack of shots, Kansas lawmakers fear the setbacks could delay what some are calling a “return to normal.”

“I think it still goes back to do we have enough doses to get people vaccinated sooner than later, so the economy can really be open,” said state Senator Tom Hawk, (D)-Manhattan.

Sen. Hawk said his concerns lie with vaccinating enough people to reopen businesses, which have had to shut down or are facing limited hours due to the coronavirus pandemic. Hawk said he’d like to see a safer environment for business owners and people.

“I think those things go hand-in-hand,” he said.

Hawk, vice-chair of the state’s Senate Ways and Means Committee, along with other lawmakers, met with state health secretary Dr. Lee Norman on Thursday to ask questions about vaccine distribution in the state.

According to the CDC, as of Wednesday, Kansas ranks 48th in the U.S. in its vaccine rollout rate.

Dr. Norman opened by addressing what he said were the two main issues the state’s run into. He said one of the issues is the low number of vaccines the state’s receiving, which is not enough to meet demand.

“They wish they had more vaccines, more doses, because of that variable to rapidly take care of folks, and get them vaccinated,” said committee chair, Sen. Rick Billinger.

However, Norman pointed out that states receive vaccines from the federal government on a per capita basis, and what Kansas has received hasn’t been enough to meet the needs of the increasing amount of vaccination sites in the state.

“From the very beginning, we’ve had hundreds of vaccine sites and vaccinators,” Norman said. “Now, we have over 1,000 registered sites, that include pharmacies and doctor’s offices, but we don’t have the vaccine to send them yet.”

DELAYS IN DATA REPORTING

Dr. Norman also said reporting problems are to blame, pointing to a “glitch” in the state’s data recording system, Web IZ.

As of Thursday, Kansas’ vaccine data shows a large gap between the total doses administered and total doses distributed, with 221,753 vaccines unaccounted for.

Dr. Norman reassured lawmakers that vaccines are “going into people’s arms,” as the department’s verified with vaccination sites that received the vaccines.

“I hope that we can get this cleaned up in a very rapid manner,” he said.

The state’s health secretary told lawmakers he’s trying to get to the bottom of problems counties are having when recording the number of vaccine doses given out.

Lawmakers agreed that some counties seem to have issues when they try to log vaccinations.

“One of my counties has indicated to me that even though they report the right amount of numbers, the right amount of numbers are not showing up,” said Sen. Billinger, speaking about Ellis County’s reporting issues when uploading data to Web IZ.

Norman said his team is working to address the data recording system issue, and that there is hope in pushing more doses of vaccines out.

A “GLIMMER OF HOPE”

Norman explained to lawmakers that efforts are being made by the federal government that would allow for an extra dose to be administered through syringes included in vaccination packages.

Norman explained when the state received early doses of the vaccine from Pfizer, it included five doses per vial. However, he said depending on how many syringes came, or how much dead space was in the syringes, six doses could be extracted from one vial.

According to Norman, the federal government will now be solely including syringes which allow for an extra dose to be extracted.

“That may not sound like a big difference, but when you’re talking about sending out hundreds of thousands of doses, to get six instead of five is a very big deal,” he said.

Norman said the sufficient amount of syringes accounts for the increased vaccines the state’s seeing come in.

A “RETURN TO NORMAL”

However, Norman stressed to lawmakers that reaching the point of herd immunity, or a “return to normal,” is based on how many people opt in to receiving vaccines.

While the state moves through Phase 2 of vaccinations, which includes an estimated amount of more than 800,000 Kansans in that group, Norman said a “fair number” of people have chosen not to receive vaccinations, using examples of long-term nursing home residents and staff deferring or choosing not to be vaccinated.

“It’s going to take a while to get back to that 80% of people, who’ve either been exposed, or had COVID, or had vaccines, so maybe we can get back to a normal life,” Sen. Hawk said.

Norman said in some nursing home facilities they’ve seen easing of restrictions for areas that have high concentrations of vaccinated people.

“We’re starting to see some easing of the restrictions, where there’s face-to-face meetings. It’ll usually be one visitor at a time,” Norman said. “That’ll gradually become more and more open.”

However, he said they are remaining vigilant, with facilities providing rapid coronavirus tests for unvaccinated visitors entering facilities.

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