COVID-19 vaccine for high-risk health care workers expected in Kansas in mid-December

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee, chaired by Sen. Carolyn McGinn, hears plans Tuesday to begin vaccine distribution in Kansas around mid-December. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A Kansas health official says a COVID-19 vaccine could be available for many high-risk health care workers in mid-December.

Phil Griffin, deputy director of the bureau of disease control and prevention for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration, a vaccine from the pharmaceutical company Pfizer may be available between Dec. 13 and 15.

KDHE expects to receive 23,750 doses of the vaccine for an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 health care workers, Griffin said during a presentation to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, chaired by Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican.

“We are not going to have enough vaccine to vaccinate everyone, but I would say that we have a pretty good chance of vaccinating everyone in that group who is willing to accept the vaccine,” Griffin said. “Roughly 45% of people right now are willing to receive the vaccine, 20% absolutely have said they will not receive the vaccine, and then there’s about 35% that are kind of on the fence.”

Following a disastrous November in which COVID-19 case numbers reaching record highs statewide and with Thanksgiving gatherings likely to lead to another spike, Kansas legislators and health officials are pining for a vaccine to ease the pressure. That aid could be here shortly, with the U.S. Food and Drug Association set to meet in the coming weeks to discuss the approval of two vaccines.

The second vaccine was created by Moderna, a Massachusetts-based biotechnology company, and will be available around Christmastime, Griffin said. The supply is expected to be smaller than what Pfizer provides but should help cover those unable to receive a Pfizer vaccine.

In January, Griffin expects both manufacturers to distribute additional vaccines.

Testing will take place in three phases, Griffin said. In addition to health care workers working directly with COVID-19 patients, the first phase will include first responders, long-term care facility residents and pharmacists. Griffin estimates this phase will cover around 200,000 Kansans.

The second phase, expected to be administered in spring 2021, will cover essential workers. The third phase, planned for summer 2021, will cover the state’s general population.

Rep. Troy Waymaster, R-Bunker Hill, asked what defines an “essential worker,” noting there have been several definitions floated around.

“Is that going to be determined by KDHE?” Waymaster said.

Griffin said KDHE will dictate who qualifies, but input from an external planning committee, composed of organizations and commissions representing a diverse group of demographics, will have input.

Julie Lorenz, executive director of the state recovery office, tells lawmakers Tuesday the vaccine distribution will be paid for with CARES Act funding intended for eviction programs and remote learning. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

Griffin urged patience with the vaccination process as the details of the plans could change in the coming weeks and months.

“There are multiple challenges with this, like the unclear timeline,” Griffin said. “We don’t know exactly when we’re going to get things or how much we’re going to get.”

A portion of funding for vaccine administration and distribution will come via CARES Act money recouped from the third round of pandemic relief aid distribution, said Julie Lorenz, executive director of the state recovery office.

Following approval in November from the State Finance Council, approximately $38.5 million intended for an eviction program and remote-learning for school-age children has been earmarked to be redistributed.

Of those funds, $18.5 million will go toward public health response, including vaccine planning and execution, local health department support and safety net clinics. The remaining $20 million will be allocated to business resiliency and workforce support.

“We asked for authority to recoup and redistribute funds across the programs as part of our contingency planning,” Lorenz said. “We continue to be appreciative of the finance council for giving us that authority because there are so many moving parts in this process. And it’s important to be flexible responsive to get those dollars out to Kansas.”