Kansas poised to make COVID-19 vaccines available to another 600K residents

Governor says life will soon return to normal; health secretary praises ‘battle buddies’

By: - March 15, 2021 5:46 pm

Gov. Laura Kelly announced Monday the state will soon advance to the next phase of its planned rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly announced Monday the state was a week away from advancing to the next phase in the rollout plan for COVID-19 vaccines, and expressed optimism that Kansans soon could resume their pre-pandemic lives.

The administration plans to combine the next two scheduled phases of the rollout and broaden the scope of vaccine eligibility to include 600,000 more residents.

Sridevi Donepudi, senior vice president at Stormont Vail Health, gives Gov. Laura Kelly a tour of the hospital’s mass vaccination clinic Monday in Topeka. The clinic has delivered shots to up to 1,600 people in a day and has the capacity to deliver up to 2,500. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

“It won’t be long,” Kelly said, “before we can get our lives back to normal — back to rituals and traditions like parades and barbecues on Independence Day, back to in-person worship services, back to ballgames, and most importantly, back to spending time with our loved ones, whether they’re near or far.”

Kelly said the addition of Johnson and Johnson’s one-shot vaccine to the arsenal of health care workers allows the state to start inoculating individuals slated for the third and fourth phases. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment currently receives and distributes about 150,000 doses of vaccines per week, and expects to get another 100,000 doses just from Johnson and Johnson in a couple of weeks.

KDHE in December began deploying doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to health care workers and nursing homes. The state entered the second phase of its rollout in January, making the vaccine available to individuals over the age of 65 and a wide range of essential workers.

Some counties are still wrapping up phase two, which covered above 1 million people.

Starting March 22, Kansans battling cancer, diabetes, heart conditions, asthma, liver disease and other serious illnesses will become eligible for a vaccine. Pregnant women will also be covered, as well as “critical infrastructure” workers, such as employees who work in the food industry, utilities, social services, government, transportation, housing, or information technology.

The governor announced the transition after touring the Kansas ExpoCentre, a county-owned events center in Topeka that was turned into a mass vaccination clinic operated by Stormont Vail Health. Staff there delivers up to 1,600 doses of vaccine per day, with the capacity to expand to 2,500 per day.

Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, says “battle buddies” help get each other through the challenges of the pandemic. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

KDHE secretary Lee Norman thanked the medical personnel who have endured the hardest year of their career. He said the pandemic reminded him of the stress and strain of overseeing medical operations while deployed to the Middle East in 2017 as a member of the Kansas Army National Guard.

The battle against COVID-19 isn’t over, Norman said, but “resiliency comes in many forms.”

“You’ve accomplished things that have just been monumental,” Norman said. “It’s important to reflect on the mountains we’ve moved. It’s important to protect and to care for the people around you, your fellow caregivers. In the Army, we call them battle buddies. And this is certainly a battle that we’ve been going through together. And it’s our buddies that help us get through it. We are in this together. And there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the 2021 and 2022 Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He is a lifelong Kansan.