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Health officials explain priority groups for Phase 2, as some Kansans await vaccines

Coronavirus in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – As Kansas plans to move into Phase 2 soon, some Kansans eager to get their shots have expressed concern and confusion about the state’s vaccine priority groups.

“I think people would like to know more about the vaccine distribution plan,” said Rhonda Sayles, a Jefferson County resident.

Sayles’ parents, both in their 80s, are now in the group to be vaccinated next in Kansas, after healthcare workers and long-term care facilities, a recent addition to the state’s updated vaccine distribution plan released January 7. The governor noted in her virtual State of the State address Tuesday, that the state is expecting to move into Phase 2 before the end of January.

“I still don’t think it’s soon enough,” Sayles said. “I do think that seniors should’ve been in Phase 1 along with healthcare workers, whether they were living in long-term care facilities, or not. There’s been no date given. I just don’t think that’s acceptable I think we need to be doing better.”

As of Thursday, populations in age groups 65 and older account for more than 85% of coronavirus deaths in the state. The governor included all seniors 65 and older after announcing prisoners among the second group to be vaccinated, receiving pushback from some Kansans for placing the group above the general public.

Now, prisoners and other people in congregate settings are set to begin vaccinations in Phase 2 as well, placing them before other high-risk groups, like people aged 16-64 with severe medical conditions.

“Prisons are part of a community,” said state health secretary Dr. Lee Norman in an interview with Kansas’ Capitol Bureau. “Whether you like it or not they are part of a community. We think it’s a priority group.”

Norman explained that prisoners are at very high risk for contracting the virus with the state seeing a large number of cases among staff as well. The state started vaccinating prison staff working in COVID-19 units back in December. According to KDHE, the methodology for listing vaccine priority groups is based on CDC recommendations, and input from the state’s independent advisory committee to ensure broad input.

Dr. Dana Hawkinson with the University of Kansas Medical Center spoke more about the threat to prison communities and congregate settings in an interview on Thursday.

“Transmission within those places is so darn easy to do from one person to the other, and that’s not even the prisoners, but it’s also the guards and the other people that are working there as well,” Hawkinson said.

State health officials said another issue the state has faced is supply of vaccines. An issue Norman said he remains optimistic about as they move into Phase two, hoping that more vaccines will be distributed by the federal government to the state.

Gov. Kelly said she plans to announce a new partnership set to bring more vaccines to the state next week.

Click here for more information on the state’s vaccines.

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