Demand surges as Kansas opens up vaccine to second group

Online sign-ups for the coronavirus vaccine are filling up almost as quickly as they are posted as health officials begin moving beyond immunizing just health care workers and long-term care residents.

Saline County had to shut its clinic down within 30 minutes after residents 65 and older nabbed all 900 available slots. That’s about how long Douglas County had its signup open before its 500 slots were filled.

“That is probably going to be what they are going to see all across the state I would imagine,” said Kimberly Qualls, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Association of Counties.

The rush comes after Gov. Laura Kelly announced Thursday that the state was moving into the second vaccination phase. The issue is that the phase is massive, covering about 1 million people. It includes not just those 65 and older but also people in congregate settings such as prisons and homeless shelters, and critical workers such as firefighters, police officers, teachers, and meatpacking plant employees.

The state also will continue vaccinating people from the first phase, some of whom wanted to watch the rollout to see if there were problems before getting vaccinated themselves.

The challenge is that the state doesn’t have nearly enough doses for all of them — at least not yet. So the state is leaving it up to counties to decide how to prioritize who gets vaccinated next.

Nearly three-quarters of health departments planned to tier residents in the second phase, with the remainder leaving everyone on equal footing, according to a survey that the Kansas Association of Local Health Departments conducted last week.

Many of the 61 health officials who responded to the survey noted in a comment section that they planned to focus on older residents first. But others said they were prioritizing essential workers.

The decisions were fraught and come following a year in which many health officials in Kansas and nationally have quit following tense debates on masks and public health orders.

Dennis Kriesel, the executive director of the Kansas Association of Local Health Departments, said that people will need to be patient because the second phase is so large. He stressed that counties are being urged to use up all their vaccine allotment each week, leaving nothing in reserve.

But he added: “Unless and until we get more vaccine a week it is going to be awhile.”

Nearly 123,000 people, or about 4.2% of the state’s population, have received the COVID-19 vaccine to date, state health officials said. Kansas has received about 255,550 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines so far and administered at least 143,856, including 20,999-second doses.