MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly announced Friday that anyone in Kansas age 16 or older will be allowed to get a coronavirus vaccine starting Monday because the state expects to get enough of the medicine to speed up its inoculation process for the second time in two weeks.
Kelly's announcement means the state will enter the fifth and final phase of its vaccine distribution. The move to make vaccines available to another 400,000 people comes after weeks of criticism from Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature that the effort is not moving quickly enough and not organized enough for people to easily learn where and when they can get shots.
Kansas on Monday began allowing vaccinations for people with chronic medical conditions that leave them more at risk of serious complications or death from a COVID-19 infection. Kelly said it was possible because the state expected 100,000 doses next week of the single-shot vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson. But the state health department announced Wednesday that manufacturing issues meant Kansas will receive only 16,500 of those doses on time.
That first speed-up came after Democratic President Joe Biden pledged that all American adults would be eligible for shots by May 1. Biden on Thursday doubled his goal for shots during his first 100 days in office to 200 million after the U.S. surpassed its first, 100 million goal earlier this month.
“With the anticipated increase in supply from the federal government, we must get every dose of vaccine into arms quickly,” Kelly said in a news release. “I strongly encourage every Kansan to get the COVID-19 vaccine so we can get back to school, back to work, and back to normal.”
Of the three vaccines being distributed in the U.S., only one — the two-dose version made by Pfizer — has been approved for people 16 and older. The other two — J&J's and Moderna's — have been approved for people 18 and up. All three are available in Kansas.
Several other states also have made the vaccine available to all adults, including Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Utah, and West Virginia.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported Friday that more than 753,000 of the state's 2.9 million residents had gotten at least one vaccine dose — an increase of roughly 47,000 since Wednesday. It also said that more than 1.14 million doses had been administered in Kansas, which amounts to about 75% of the 1.5 million the state has received.
Dennis Kriesel, executive director of the Kansas Association of Local Health Departments, said some county health officials asked state health officials this week about refusing vaccine shipments for the next week or two. He said some told him they were struggling to get people on their vaccine lists, even with this week's expansion of eligibility.
“So we might as well just open it up, because at the end of the day, the goal is to vaccinate as many total Kansans as possible, and this achieves that," he said.
State Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican and member of the Senate health committee, said people already have found it necessary to get on multiple vaccine lists and even drive long distances to get shots, and she’s worried that those problems will “cascade” with more people eligible.
Also, she said, she wants people with chronic medical conditions to get their inoculations ahead of younger, healthier people.
“It has not been smooth,” Baumgardner said. “It still is this ping pong for folks to figure out, how do I find out where and when I can get that vaccination?”
The accelerated vaccine distribution comes as the number of new COVID-19 cases hovering about as low as it was around last year's July Fourth holiday. The state had an average of 275 new confirmed or probable cases a day for the seven days ending Friday, according to state health department data.
From Wednesday to Friday, the number of new COVID-19 cases rose by just 506 and the number of deaths rose by 10, pushing the state's pandemic totals to 301,433 cases and 4,891 deaths. The state averaged seven additional reported deaths a day over the seven days that ended Friday.
But health officials worry that the numbers could again rise as variants begin to spread. Health officials in the Lawrence area announced Thursday that they had detected the area's first case of a more contagious coronavirus variant first identified in the United Kingdom. Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health said in a news release that the case is one of roughly 30 in Kansas in which that variant has been found in recent weeks.
Hanna reported from Topeka.
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