Johnson County leaders give update on vaccine phases, signal next priority groups

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FILE – This Saturday, March 6, 2021 file photo shows vials of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in the pharmacy of National Jewish Hospital for distribution in east Denver. The European Medicines Agency is meeting Thursday March 11, 2021, to discuss whether Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose coronavirus vaccine should be authorized, a move that would give the European Union a fourth licensed vaccine to try to curb the pandemic amid a stalled inoculation drive. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

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OLATHE, Kan. — At a news conference Thursday, officials from the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment said everyone over the age of 65 who signed up to receive a COVID-19 vaccine has been contacted for an appointment.

Dr. Sanmi Areola, Director of Epidemiology for Johnson County, said he couldn’t say how many people have been vaccinated so far because of a reporting glitch from the state health department. He estimates approximately 15% of people in Johnson County have been vaccinated against the virus. 

Starting Friday, the county health department will launch a new “All Phases” survey for people to be notified when they qualify to get vaccinated.

Elizabeth Holzschuh, an epidemiologist for Johnson County, said anyone can fill out the survey to be notified when a vaccine will be available once they qualify to receive it. 

Areola anticipates the county will begin vaccinating grocery store workers as well as people who work in bars and restaurants in the next few weeks. Areola could not provide an estimated timeline for when the county might transition to vaccinating people in Phase 3. 

Holzschuh said the county is currently receiving doses of both the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. She says the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is being reserved to cover residents in harder to reach populations, including those who are homebound, intellectually or developmentally disabled or experiencing houselessness. 

Holzschuh said she recommends qualifying residents take whichever vaccine is readily available to them.

“My suggestion would be to take whichever one you have the opportunity to take,”  Holzschuh said Thursday. “Even though there is more vaccine in our community than there has been, it’s still limited.”

Holzschuh said all available vaccines are effective at preventing death, hospitalization and severe illness.

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