Kansas expects small uptick in vaccine supply amid shortages

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TOPEKA, Kan. — The top health official in Kansas has told lawmakers that the state will likely see a small uptick in immediate supply of the COVID-19 vaccine with the change in presidential administrations.

In a joint hearing Tuesday before Senate and House health panels, Dr. Lee Norman, head of the state health department, said he has been told the state will probably get a 1% or 2% increase in its vaccine supply in the short run.

“The shortages are going to be something we are going to have to live with,” Norman said.

The federal government allocates vaccines to states based on population. Kansas, with its population of 3 million, receives 1% of the nation’s allocated vaccines, he said, adding that the state has at times been shorted as much as half of its anticipated supply.

The state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout prioritizes health care workers and nursing homes in its first phase, which is almost complete. About a third of the state’s population will be covered in the second phase, which covers people ages 65 and older, those in congregate settings such as prisons, and high-contact critical workers.

“The problem is there is not enough (vaccine) — and that has been the thing we have not been able to slay yet,” Norman told lawmakers.

Norman also questioned whether it makes sense to open more vaccination sites if there is not enough vaccine being supplied.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported Wednesday that 111,905 people, or about 3.8% of the state’s population, have received the COVID-19 vaccine to date. Kansas has received about 202,225 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines so far and administered at least 129,349, including 17,712 second doses, according to the agency’s website.

Norman told lawmakers that the state has been administering about 60% of the vaccine it receives, far above the 39% average for the nation.

Kansas counties do not have to move “in lockstep” into phase two, and can do so once everyone in the first phase who wants the vaccine has received it, Norman told the joint panel.

Sedgwick County health officials said Tuesday that the COVID-19 vaccine is in such short supply in the Wichita area that the county health department plans to initially limit its second phase of vaccinations to those aged 90 or older.

Gov. Laura Kelly is expected to announce a move into the second phase later this week, expanding eligibility to the vaccine to anyone 65 or older. But it could be weeks or months before the youngest in that age group are vaccinated in the Wichita area, the Wichita Eagle reported.

Deputy County Manager Tim Kaufman told Sedgwick County commissioners Tuesday that instead of opening vaccinations up to the entire 65-plus population, the county will “focus on people that are most likely to be negatively impacted by coronavirus and the folks that are most likely to die from coronavirus.”

In Johnson County, thousands of residents trying to complete a coronavirus vaccine survey overwhelmed the online system, prompting the local health department to boost its server capacity.

Kansas health officials also added another 3,590 COVID-19 cases from Monday to Wednesday, pushing the tally in the state to 263,412 since since the start of the pandemic. It reported 50 more coronavirus-related deaths since Monday, bringing the state’s death toll to at least 3,575.

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