High-risk health care workers in Kansas get first doses of COVID-19 vaccine

New report indicates struggles accessing basic needs extend beyond pandemic

By: - December 14, 2020 5:08 pm
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly said Friday that she signed a bill unanimously passed by the Legislature to require greater scrutiny by state and law enforcement officials of alleged child abuse. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly said Friday that she signed a bill unanimously passed by the Legislature to require greater scrutiny by state and law enforcement officials of alleged child abuse. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Administration of COVID-19 vaccinations is underway in Kansas for high-risk health care workers, Gov. Laura Kelly said Monday.

The first shipment to Kansas of the Pfizer vaccine, approved Friday by the Food and Drug Administration, totals 23,750 doses. Health care workers who are around the virus consistently are the first to receive the shots, followed by low-risk medical workers and those 65 years and older.

Kelly estimated previously there should be enough vaccinations for 150,000 people to receive the first of two doses by the end of the year. Once additional shipments arrive, and pending FDA approval of the Moderna’s vaccine, a more expansive vaccination effort will begin, Kelly said.

“Next Wednesday, you’ll see a sort of across the state vaccination program beginning,” Kelly said. “We expect Moderna’s first shipments to come in next week, then Pfizer’s second shipment to come in and then weekly thereafter.”

With case numbers and deaths still rising across the state, Kansas families are struggling with access to basic needs like housing, food and health care, according to findings of a new report. Legislators hope the vaccine can provide some form of optimism toward improving these pressure points.

Since Friday, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment has recorded 4,724 new cases and 37 new deaths from COVID-19. All deaths were in patients ages 45 or older.

Statewide totals now sit at 190,018 cases and 2,109 deaths since the pandemic began.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran said the arrival of the vaccine may signal better times to come.

“This is a historic moment and marks the beginning of our return to normal as the first COVID-19 vaccine was administered in Kansas,” Moran said. “The incredible success of Operation Warp Speed is an example of the exceptionalism that exists within American science and medicine. While we still have a long road ahead, Kansans will soon have access to this safe and effective vaccine.”


Health officer quits

Shawnee County health officer Gianfranco Pezzino resigned Monday morning after the county commissioners amended his health order before passing it.

By a 2-1 vote, commissioners extended an order that limited gatherings but amended the order’s bar and restaurant restrictions to allow them to remain open until 10 p.m. and allow organized sports teams to practice.

Pezzino said the bar and restaurant restriction was necessary because of the high risk posed and that organized sports invite too many people to one area. After the vote, Pezzino said he could not continue in good conscience as the health officer.

He previously announced his intentions to step down when his contract expired at the end of the year, citing personal reasons.

In a statement after his resignation, the Shawnee County Health Department said it would seek to replace Pezzino promptly.

“The Shawnee County Health Department is currently assessing the impact of Dr. Pezzino’s resignation on current SCHD operations,” the statement said.


Right in time

The first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines should prove beneficial in alleviating some concerns expressed in a new study showing Kansas children and families are struggling to find stable food, housing and health care amid the pandemic.

A 2020 KIDS COUNT report, developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation — a charitable foundation dedicated to improving outcomes for American children — examined data from U.S. Census Bureau surveys measuring food security, ability to pay rent or mortgage, health insurance status and mental health concerns. The foundation found broad challenges in Kansas amid COVID-19.

“It’s heartbreaking to learn how many Kansas families are going hungry and can’t get enough food, let alone nutritious foods,” said John Wilson, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group and part of the KIDS COUNT network. “Children can’t thrive if they can’t eat, don’t have a safe place to live and aren’t able to go to the doctor. The fact that so many Kansas families are hurting right now shows how important it is for officials to take swift action.”

The study indicates 15% of Kansas families with children reported not having enough to eat some or most of the time, 16% said they had little confidence in making their next rent payment on time, and 14% did not have health insurance.

This has left 19% with feelings of depression or hopelessness.

The data from Kansas falls in line with survey results from across the country.

“America’s children are in crisis,” said Lisa Hamilton, the Annie E. Casey Foundation President and CEO. “All across the country, families with children are struggling to overcome an unprecedented convergence of emergencies. We need immediate and decisive action from policymakers that prioritizes equitable solutions to help families survive this catastrophe.”

The foundation urged lawmakers to prioritize their COVID-19 response to “ensure children have what they need to survive and thrive.”

Suggestions included making racial equity a cornerstone of any policy, retaining and strengthening the Affordable Care Act, and the expansion of unemployment insurance for part-time workers.

Wilson urged lawmakers and fellow advocates to look for impactful policy changes that will benefit Kansans beyond the pandemic.

“Understanding the data and the very real challenges facing the state’s families shouldn’t be confined to a pandemic,” Wilson said. “We were already tracking data trends before this emergency began, and we call on state officials and those we elected to make sure Kansas kids succeed.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.