Vaccine distribution lags in KC metro and across US, slowing progress health leaders hoped for

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Getting COVID-19 vaccines distributed widely is taking much longer than many had hoped. Some metro health departments haven’t gotten any doses of the vaccine.

Truman Medical Center said it’s making remarkable strides. Nearly half of all its employees have now received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination, but it appears across the country, and right here in the metro, it’s a patchwork of progress to get and give doses.

As more health care workers roll up their sleeves to get the COVID vaccine, it’s continued encouragement for those on the front lines, but there’s a lot of work left to do.

“We do see some light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel remains quite long,” Dr. Mark Steele, Truman Medical Center Executive Chief Clinical Officer, said. “It’s going to take quite a while for us to get a significant proportion of the population vaccinated.”

TMC continues to get regular vaccine shipments and work its way through all staff who want to get the shot, but the hospital knows there are challenges in getting these doses to all the places they’re needed. 

The Jackson County Health Department tells FOX4 it has been able to vaccinate employees at Truman Medical Center. But it’s still waiting for more than 900 shots to start vaccinating tier 1A residents, which includes other health care workers and public safety employees. The department hopes to start a vaccination clinic soon.

Across the state line, the Johnson County, Kansas, Health Department has only received 1,200 total doses. 

Almost 90% of staff has been vaccinated, and they are slowly giving shots to EMS and health care professionals. 

“I thought my problem would be convincing people to take it,” said Dr. Sanmi Areola, director of Johnson County Department of Health and Environment. “Right now, I have people willing to take it, and I don’t have enough vaccines to do that.”

Areola said the county has vaccine sites set and workers ready to go to inoculate thousands. 

But if the current rate of 1,200 doses a week continues, it would take 500 weeks to immunize the county’s roughly 600,000 residents. The longer it takes, the longer people will continue to suffer. 

“It’s frustrating when I see number of cases and see number of deaths,” Areola said.

It’s estimated only about a quarter of the more than 11 million vaccine doses have been distributed so far.

President-elect Joe Biden said if that doesn’t improve soon, it’ll take years, not months, to get past this pandemic. He’s hoping to enact big changes to get 100 million Americans vaccinated within his first 100 days in office. 

“If Congress provides funding, we’d be able to meet this goal,” Biden said. “It would take ramping five to six times the current pace to one million shots a day.”

Right now, about 2 million vaccines have been given. That is a far cry from the 20 million doses President Donald Trump was hoping would have been given by now.  

Health experts in Missouri and Kansas are optimistic that when logistics of getting vaccine shipments are improved, most people will have access to the vaccine by summer.

Nearly half of vaccine doses received so far were strictly allocated for use by long-term care facility workers and residents. 

The director of Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services said, long-term care facilities should be finished with the first dose of the vaccine by mid-January, which should help improve delivery, by freeing up more vaccinations for use in other priority population groups statewide.

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