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Kan. Gov. ‘very comfortable’ with vaccine distribution

Vaccine arrived in Topeka December 15 - photo courtesy Stormont Vail Health
Vaccine arrived in Topeka December 15 – photo courtesy Stormont Vail Health

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Gov. Laura Kelly said Monday that she’s “very comfortable” with how Kansas is distributing COVID-19 vaccines despite U.S. government data showing its inoculation rate is the lowest of any state.

The Democratic governor argued that Kansas likely has a more efficient distribution system than other states and is getting vaccine doses more quickly to more communities. The state Department of Health and Environment has said the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows Kansas behind other states because of a reporting lag. Kelly told reporters the state has concentrated on “getting vaccinations in people’s arms.”

The state health department has not published or posted online its own data for the number of shots given, and Kelly has faced criticism from top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature over the CDC’s vaccination data. House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., an Olathe Republican, said Monday that Kansas residents “are tired of hearing excuses.”

Vaccine distribution has been slower and messier than public health officials and federal leaders had anticipated. The CDC reported Monday that Kansas had administered 20,110 vaccine shots, or 690 for every 100,000 residents, making it the only state to inoculate fewer than 700 residents out of every 100,000.

Vaccine arrived in Southwest Kansas on Dec. 18- photo courtesy Western Plains Medical Center
Vaccine arrived in Southwest Kansas on Dec. 18- photo courtesy Western Plains Medical Center

“We’re working on the reporting and getting the data into the system, and so those numbers will change,” Kelly told reporters Monday at the Statehouse. “We’ve got people who right now are focused on getting vaccinations in people’s arms and their sidelight is then trying to get that data into the system.”

The health department reported that Kansas averaged 2,179 new confirmed and probable coronavirus cases and 50 additional COVID-19 deaths a day for the seven days ending Monday. The state has reported more than 231,000 cases since the pandemic reached the state in early March, or one case for every 13 of its 2.9 million residents, and 2,798 deaths, or one for every 1,042 residents.

“We all know the importance of vaccines,” Ryckman said. “We know that’s the key to getting through this.”

The CDC reported that as of Monday, less than 30% of the vaccine doses distributed across the U.S. had been administered, or less than 4.6 million doses. In Kansas, the figure was about 15%.

The federal agency said Missouri has given 39% of the vaccines it has received, or 91,817 shots. Its inoculation rate is 1,496 per 100,000 people, or more than twice Kansas’ rate.

The state health department said not all providers are fully trained on using the computer system for reporting inoculations.

Kelly previously heralded the arrival of vaccines in rural communities and said Monday that “whatever we’re getting” from the federal government is “getting down into our local communities.”

“I think Kansas has probably one of the most efficient systems set up, where we’re really using a hub and spoke, while other states are just using the hub, and distributing from there, rather than getting it down into the local communities,” Kelly said.

Dr. Kevin Dishman, the chief medical officer for the Stormont Vail Health system in northeast Kansas, lauded the vaccination effort, saying about 3,000 of the health system’s 5,300 employees have been vaccinated to date and it has a clinic that can handle up to 1,000 shots a day.

“We have not seen a lot of wasted dosages or heard of mismanagement of the vaccine,” Dishman said. “I think that we’ve seen a monumental effort by a lot people to deliver this as quickly and safely as possible.”

The state health department added 3,572 coronavirus cases to the state’s pandemic tally since Friday, bringing it to 231,317. It also added 18 additional COVID-19 deaths since Monday.

Meanwhile, Ryckman, his aides and the Legislature’s staff were finishing up coronavirus preparations for lawmakers’ annual 90-day session, which is set to convene Jan. 11. Ryckman himself was briefly hospitalized this summer with COVID-19.

Legislative leaders set aside $3 million for technology upgrades to allow live video and audio streaming of all committee meetings and to allow legislators, lobbyists and the public to participate remotely. Only about half of the House’s members will be seated on the floor, so members can social distance, with the others assigned seats in galleries.


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