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Frustration, lines common as Kansas expands vaccine rollout

A long line of seniors, some clutching walkers, waited in the cold this week when Kansas’ largest county began vaccinating its oldest residents against the coronavirus.

Johnson County, which blamed the long-wait mishap in part on people showing up without appointments, isn’t alone in struggling with demand as the state moved beyond vaccinating health care workers and long-term residents. Health officials and hospitals are being deluged with calls, and appointment slots are filling up in minutes.

“We are pleased to see the enthusiasm and the interest in vaccines,” County Manager Penny Ferguson said in apologizing for the logistical problems that occurred Tuesday. The situation improved later in the week.

The challenge is that the second phase is massive, including about one-third of the state’s 2.9 million residents. It prioritizes those 65 and older, essential workers including teachers and police officers, and those living in communal settings such as prisons and homeless shelters.

Health officials say there isn’t enough vaccine to immunize everyone in the second phase quickly. And messaging is tricky because the state is allowing individual counties to decide who goes first within that phase.

As of Friday, just 5.8% of the state’s population, or nearly 168,341 people, had been vaccinated, state health officials said.

“I think one of the things that has happened is it is so confusing to people about where to go to get the vaccination because of probably a lack of transparency and good communication,” Dr. Steve Stites, the chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System, said during a webcast. “People are so frustrated because they want the vaccine right now.”

He said his own health system found itself with leftover doses after vaccinating its employees because some of them didn’t want to be immunized yet. The health system then provided some of the unused vaccines to nearby health departments but still had 2,000 or 3,000 doses left. It turned to its own patients who were 65 and older and prioritized them based on a random number generator.

“But what that did is it made 2,000 or 3,000 people super happy and like 100,000 people really mad,” he said. “And it’s not that it’s a bad attempt. The problem isn’t that we don’t want to give it. The problem is we do not have it to give it.”


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