Kansas lawmakers push health officials for answers as Phase 2 of vaccine rollout nears

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — Kansas lawmakers grilled state health officials with questions about coronavirus vaccine rollout in a committee meeting Tuesday.

But, some left the meeting with their concerns unaddressed and frustrated with the department’s lack of communication.

“We want to make sure that all Kansans that want to have the COVID vaccine have that available to them, and so communication is really going to have to improve,” said Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg.

Baumgardner and other lawmakers shared in the concern that not all long-term care facilities were receiving vaccines as quickly as skilled nursing homes, which administer vaccines through a partnership with CVS and Walgreens. As Senator Beverly Gossage, R-Eudora shared the story of her 90-year old mother, who’s been living in an independent living facility since March, and has not been offered the vaccine, Dr. Norman clarified that her mother does qualify for vaccinations under Phase 1 and that the facility should be making plans to roll out vaccines.

“She would be considered long-term care because that’s essentially a congregate living situation,” Norman said.

As the state plans to move into Phase 2, they plan to vaccinate people ages 65 and older, those in congregate settings, like prisoners, and high contact critical workers. However, Baumgardner stressed there are still members of long-term care facilities in the state, like independent living centers and smaller assisted living facilities, that have yet to receive vaccinations. She also noted she continues to receive calls from constituents wondering when their loved ones in these facilities will be vaccinated.

Baumgardner pushed Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) officials for answers to questions about the status of vaccines in long-term care facilities. KDHE Secretary Dr. Lee Norman responded with the promise to get specific numbers on the percentage of people in long-term care facilities that have been vaccinated to the committee next week.

“The Kansans that call that home were supposed to be in Phase 1 for the vaccination, and though we have the secretary telling us that we’re almost done with Phase 1, we’re still hearing that residents have not received their vaccination,” she said.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kansas ranks 33rd in the country for the number of vaccines administered per 100,000 residents. Norman said supply continues to be a concern for the state as they enter Phase 2.

Norman said the state receives about 1% of vaccine doses distributed nationally based on its population size, but he said sometimes states can receive a lower shipment than anticipated with short notice.

“You can’t get to the top tier if you don’t have enough vaccine from the federal government,” he said.

Plans to receive more vaccine doses, which were claimed to be stored away through Operation Warp Speed, came to a halt, when Alex Azar, secretary of health and human services, acknowledged there was no federal vaccine reserve to push out more doses. Norman said it remains unclear how vaccine distribution will be handled by President-elect Joe Biden’s administration.

So far, the state said more than 117,000 vaccines doses have been administered. State leaders plan to announce when they will move into Phase 2 later this week.

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