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Health

Hopes Rise As Distribution Of COVID-19 Vaccine Gets Underway Across Missouri And Kansas

121520_cm_VaccineUpdate
Truman Medical Center
A health care worker at Truman Medical Center displays a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine that was shipped to Kansas City Monday and was used to inoculate staff there.

In Kansas, the first shipments of the vaccine were received at several cold storage locations across the state.

COVID-19 vaccinations are underway in Kansas City as local hospitals begin receiving their first doses of the vaccine.

Truman Medical Centers began inoculating frontline workers on Monday, making it the first hospital in Kansas City to administer the vaccine.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly announced at the University of Kansas Health System’s daily briefing Tuesday that the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech had arrived in the state Monday morning.

Kelly said she was relieved the state may be turning the corner on the pandemic.

“The vaccine is coming, and we will be able to start taking care of folks who are frontline healthcare workers,” she said. “We have to make sure that our health care workers stay healthy so that they can take care of the rest of the folks who are not, and then we'll also be working on our long-term care residents.”

But even as the vaccine raised hopes of an eventual end to the COVID-19 pandemic, COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Kansas City area ticked up slightly from last week. An expected surge of cases in the aftermath of the Thanksgiving holiday, however, so far has not materialized.

Dr. Rex Archer, director of the Kansas City Health Department, attributed that to public health messaging centered on the holiday.

“It’s still a little early, but I think our efforts have actually made a difference, and it’s not as much as we would like, but I think it’s significant,” he said.

Meanwhile, Missouri’s health department once again discovered previously unreported COVID-19 deaths.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services found 208 deaths through analysis of death certificates that were not previously counted in the state’s tallies.

One hundred and eighty of the deaths occurred in November and most of the rest happened this month.

The health department also reported 138 previously uncounted COVID-19 deaths two weeks ago. All told, Missouri has had more than 4,700 coronavirus deaths.

In Kansas,2,109 people have died of COVID-19, according to a state website.

The first shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were received Monday at several cold storage locations across Kansas. From there, Gov. Kelly said, they're being sent to hospitals and pharmacies with the capacity to house the vaccine.

Dr. Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said every county will receive shipments of the vaccine but the number of doses will depend on a county's population size.

“We're covering all the areas, every one of the 105 counties, right out of the chute because the priority people for the first phase are in every county,” Norman said.

He said Kansas also is making plans to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine to minority and medically underserved communities by enlisting the aid of an advisory board with members of those communities.

Norman said the board is looking into options for people to obtain the vaccine in different employment settings or via different modes of transportation.

“We'll have mobile units that will go out to the communities rather than the people necessarily coming into a central site,” Norman said. “A lot of thought has been given to that, but nothing more important than involvement by those communities on a first-hand basis with our external advisors.”

Kelly said essential workers who don’t work in health care can expect the vaccine to be available later in January after frontline workers and residents of long-term facilities have been vaccinated.

The plan for which essential workers will receive the vaccine first has changed since earlier this year, Norman said.

“In this case, the priority is to prevent people from getting illness to prevent hospitalizations and prevent deaths. And so that will be a little bit different than what we saw in terms of essential workers in the springtime.”

At the KU briefing Tuesday, University of Kansas Health system officials announced that 87 of their patients had active COVID-19 cases. Fifty-five of them were in the intensive care unit and 26 were on ventilators.

Dr. Dana Hawkinson, a KU infectious disease expert, said that while those numbers had remained steady, there could still be a surge of cases from Thanksgiving gatherings.

Vaccines are not expected to be available to the general public until spring. Once it is, Norman said people should contact their local health department to see how the vaccines are being distributed.

Avvia Okeson-Haberman and Alex Smith contributed to this story.

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