TOPEKA — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday inoculation of Kansans with COVID-19 vaccines continued to trail the rate in four surrounding states, while Republican politicians denounced plans by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly to place prison inmates ahead of the general public on the priority list for the shot.
Kelly said statistics reported by CDC on Kansas’ vaccination rate were misleading because gaps in comparison with Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado and Oklahoma had been distorted by delays in documenting inoculations in Kansas. CDC data shows 20,110 people in Kansas received at least one shot for a rate of 690 per 100,000 residents. That ranked Kansas last nationally, according to CDC. Mississippi had the second-worst inoculation rate of 733 for 100,000 residents.
Nebraska has distributed the vaccine to 35,644 people, according to CDC, for a rate of 1,853 per 100,000. Here are total vaccinations and per-capita rates for the three other states: Colorado, 112,500 shots, 1,954 per 100,000; Missouri, 91,800 shots, 1,496 per 100,000; and Oklahoma, 60,000 shots, 1,517 per 100,000.
“We’ve got people who right now are focused on getting vaccinations in people’s arms,” said Kelly, a Topeka Democrat. “Their sidelight is trying to get that data into the system. I think what we’ve done is just not pull them away from people to train them. We’re working on the reporting and getting the data into systems so that those numbers will change.”
When asked to explain the vaccination-reporting shortfall in Kansas, Kelly said the state needed to prioritize prompt distribution of its allocation of 130,000 doses of vaccine while also upgrading contributions to the CDC and other public reporting on vaccination rates. The governor’s office said coronavirus vaccine had been transferred to all 105 counties, and the governor said Kansas had among the most efficient systems for moving vaccine from central storage hubs to health facilities in each county.
However, the Osage County Health Department posted to social media that the agency “does not have any vaccine and KDHE has not given us a timeframe as to when we will receive it. The health department has not been notified of any sites in the county that have vaccine.” In response, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said Osage County did receive vaccine, but not through the county health department.
Osage County has received vaccine, just not through the health department. The health department will receive their vaccines today.
The CDC says 4.5 million doses of vaccine have been administered nationwide from among 15.4 million doses delivered to states and territories.
Ashley Jones-Wisner, spokeswoman for KDHE, said not all health providers were fully trained on computer systems used to report inoculations for COVID-19. The state-by-state vaccination numbers shared by CDC “are not current” in terms of Kansas, she said.
“We hope that as this process moves forward, and everyone becomes trained, we will be able to share accurate numbers more readily,” Jones-Wisner said.
Former Gov. Jeff Colyer, a surgeon and Republican who served as governor for one year prior to Kelly’s election, said he was disappointed CDC reports affirmed Kansas was the worst in the nation at COVID-19 vaccinations.
“It’s disheartening to see Kansas ranked at the bottom in immunizations,” Colyer said. “Last April, Kansas was ranked last in testing. Kansas should be a national leader — not last place.”
In October, the Kelly administration initiated a statewide coordinated testing strategy with a goal of conducting 1 million tests for COVID-19 by the end of December. On Tuesday, KDHE said the state conducted 1,001,000 coronavirus tests during 2020.
“Ramping up testing capabilities in Kansas has been critical to identify COVID-19 in our state and stop the spread,” said Lee Norman, secretary at KDHE. “Reaching this milestone in Kansas shows great success, but we must remain vigilant and continue following proven public health measures as we move into 2021. Free testing is available through the end of January, and I urge you to utilize testing locations in your area this month.”
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican who has been mentioned along with Colyer as a possible candidate for governor in 2022, didn’t object to the Kelly administration’s intent to offer the vaccine initially to front-line pandemic workers, including prison employees, as well as nursing home residents and employees.
The attorney general, however, said a distinct line should be drawn when it came to prison inmates.
“Kansas should save lives by putting older folks, wherever they live, ahead of younger inmates,” Schmidt said. “I think Kansas seniors, many of whom have been largely trapped in their homes since March, should have priority over prisoners. But, sadly, not everybody agrees.”
Schmidt said 85% of the COVID-19 fatalities in Kansas were among people age 65 and older. The Kansas Department of Corrections reports 13 inmates have died after testing positive for the coronavirus, which computes to a rate of less than 1% of the inmate population.
The state’s prison system houses about 8,600 inmates and these facilities have reported more than 5,200 cases among incarcerated men and women. There have been nearly 1,000 infections for COVID-19 among prison staff. Four corrections employees have died.
On Monday, the state corrections department said the first inmate at El Dorado Correctional Facility had died after testing positive for COVID-19. The man’s name wasn’t released, but the 65-year-old tested positive Dec. 28 and was hospitalized Saturday. He had been incarcerated since 2010 on a 294-month sentence for attempted first-degree murder.