Governor gets COVID-19 vaccine as more doses arrive in Kansas

KDHE reports 193 more deaths; hospitals find relief but brace for post-holiday surge

Lisa Horn, a public health nurse specialist with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, injects a dose of the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 into Gov. Laura Kelly's arm Wednesday at the Kansas Army National Guard base in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Lisa Horn wasn’t nervous to stick a needle in the governor’s arm Wednesday evening as nine cameras captured the moment.

Horn has done this thousands of times with various inoculations, and 20-30 times already with the COVID-19 vaccine.

“When you’ve given as many shots as I have,” she said, “it’s a piece of cake.”

Lisa Horn, a public health nurse specialist with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, fills out paperwork after giving Gov. Laura Kelly her shot. Horn says she just gives them like she would want to receive them. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

The public health nurse specialist at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment — you can just call her a registered nurse, she said, but “I’m proud of the public health title” — administered a dose of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine to Gov. Laura Kelly at the Kansas Army National Guard base in Topeka as part of a strategic rollout of the vaccine to government leaders.

“I didn’t feel a thing,” Kelly said when the shot was over. “No pain, but hopefully a lot of gain.”

The arrival of tens of thousands of doses of vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have injected hope into the fight against an unyielding virus at the end of an exhausting year filled with loss. The virus has now killed more than 2,700 Kansans, after KDHE added another 193 deaths to the tally in its Wednesday update. More than 222,000 have been infected since the virus was first detected in Kansas in early March.

The initial batches of vaccines are earmarked for frontline health care workers and emergency responders, with thousands of additional doses arriving every week. The high-profile injections of select political leaders is meant to secure government functions and provide a public relations boost for anyone skeptical of the vaccines.

Kelly said judicial and legislative leaders, as well as statewide office holders, have been offered the vaccine.

“I don’t see this as putting politicians ahead of our vulnerable population,” Kelly said. “Essential state leaders who need to be there for continuity of operations — we’re putting them in line so that state government can continue to function.”

Kansas received another 17,500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine last week and expects to receive the same amount this week and again next week. The state also will receive the second dose next week for the 24,000 who received the initial allotment. Both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses taken weeks apart.

The state received its anticipated allotment of 20,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine last week, with another 17,000 expected this week and 17,000 again next week.

“I just encourage everybody, whenever it’s your turn, please get vaccinated,” Kelly said. “It’s a lifesaver.”

Medical professionals across the state say they finally have seen some relief from months of increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients and deaths.

John Rolph tells the State Finance Council during a virtual meeting that medical providers are more readily finding bed space for COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms. (Screen capture by Kansas Reflector)

John Rolph, who leads weekly regional calls with health care providers, told members of the State Finance Council on Wednesday that hospitals are more readily finding beds for COVID-19 patients in critical care. He said the software system used for locating available intensive care unit space now shows it takes just an hour and 15 minutes to find a bed for patients with severe conditions — an improvement from last week’s average of two hours.

“We’re still close to the edge,” Rolph said, “but there’s been some relief this week. And you could just feel that I think across the system.”

He said hospitals still find themselves in “strange new places.” A Concordia doctor said patients this week were transferred by plane to Hays, something she had never seen before. And in Emporia, the hospital’s ICU exceeded capacity.

And if there is a surge in patients from the more than 90 million Americans who traveled for Christmas, it won’t be felt for another three weeks.

“Everybody’s waiting to see what will happen with bated breath,” Rolph said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story inaccurately reported the number of doses required for the Moderna vaccine.