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Kansas City is waiting for the updated COVID vaccine, but new cases are already climbing

Misinformation surrounding COVID-19 and vaccines has fractured trust in public health departments. Kansas City metro health directors are hoping outreach efforts can repair these relationships.
Noah Taborda
KCUR 89.3
Shipments of a new COVID-19 vaccine booster that better combats new variants of the virus will be available at Kansas City pharmacies and public health departments in the coming weeks.

An updated COVID-19 vaccine will be in Kansas City in the next few weeks. The shot combats newer variants more effectively and comes as case numbers creep up across the metro.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved an updated COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, but people across the Kansas City metro are in limbo as they await shipments set to arrive in the next few weeks.

The new shot is designed to protect against a strain of the omicron variant known as XBB. Although the EG.5 variant recently overtook XBB as the dominant strain in the Kansas City region, the new shot is expected to still provide good protection against severe disease and hospitalization.

Pharmacies like CVS initially opened appointments to get a COVID-19 vaccine as early as Tuesday this week, but now, appointments are not available. Public health departments across the metro say they are expecting a shipment in the coming week or are awaiting further information.

The new vaccine's approval also means the bivalent boosters are no longer authorized.

“We expect to have updated vaccines available at our clinic within the next few weeks. Until then, COVID-19 vaccinations are on hold,” said Amanda Fontaine, health services manager for Jackson County Public Health. “That timing creates the perfect opportunity to pair your updated COVID-19 vaccine with a flu vaccine for the upcoming flu season. Both shots can be given at the same time.”

The vaccine could arrive in the nick of time as cases across the Kansas City metro are starting to tick up.

CDC data shows that hospitalizations are on the rise in both Kansas and Missouri, including in all five counties in the Kansas City metro. Although the data shows low levels of hospital admissions, all are seeing notable increases compared to the past few weeks.

To help combat the spread of the virus while they wait for the vaccine, Jackson County Public Health is continuing to offer free drive-up COVID-19 PCR testingby appointment, free testing kits and free masks.

The Johnson County Health Department also intends to offer the new COVID-19 booster shot in the coming weeks.

“We will have them at both of our locations (Mission and Olathe) at our walk-in-immunization clinics,” said Barbara Mitchell, spokesperson for the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment.

The department will update its website and social media when it has more information about when that will be.

Several other county health departments said they are awaiting more information about when they might expect the updated vaccine.

Dana Hawkinson, director of infection prevention and control at the University of Kansas Health System, says cases are starting to tick up in their patient census — a sign people should go get vaccinated once they can.

“Especially if you haven't had the infection or had the last vaccine within the past year, when the first boosters rolled out, then it's important to get it,” Hawkinson said.

He says the health system reported 16 cases this week. That's up from 14 last week and a stark increase from 7 two weeks ago.

While lower than past pandemic spikes, these case numbers are higher than the single-digit ones throughout this summer. And that doesn’t account for the rise in at-home testing, which likely means reported figures are undercounting the number of people who have the virus.

Jackson County reported 64 new hospitalizations the week leading up to Sept. 2, down from 70 the week prior but still about double that of two weeks ago. During that same week, Missouri hospitals reported 342 admissions for COVID-19 to the CDC. That’s nearly triple the state’s total during the first week of August.

Kansas reported 108 hospital admissions, more than double their count from the first week of August.

Hawkinson said the continued persistence of the virus might be part of the reason the wording is shifting from calling new shots “boosters” to “updated vaccines.”

“(COVID-19) is going to be around for a while, so just like the influenza vaccine, they're calling this the 2023-24 formulation, or updated vaccine,” Hawkinson said. “Luckily, right now, with the current, more predominant variants in the United States, we know that the vaccine continues to provide good protection.”

If you are feeling sick, doctors continue to suggest taking a COVID test every 1-2 days whether you have COVID-19 or not. By entering your zip code at testinglocator.cdc.gov, you can find several sites across Kansas City that offer free testing.

At-home tests, which are similarly effective at detecting currently active variants as previous ones, are available at most pharmacies and usually cost around $24 for a set of two.

As KCUR's health reporter, I cover the Kansas City metro in a way that reflects our expanding understanding of what health means and the ways it touches different communities and different areas in distinct ways. I will provide a platform to amplify ideas and issues often underrepresented in the media and marginalized people and communities in an authentic and honest way that goes beyond the surface of the issues. I will endeavor to find and include in my work local experts and organizations that have their ears to the ground and a beat on the health needs of the community. Reach me at noahtaborda@kcur.org.
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