A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services employee holds a COVID-19 vaccine record card Nov. 13, 2020, at Operation Warp Speed headquarters in Washington, D.C. (EJ Hersom/U.S. Department of Defense)
TOPEKA — As health officials across the country aim for a national 70% adult vaccination rate against COVID-19 by July 4, health centers in Kansas are finding ways to reach the most vulnerable populations in the state.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 50.9% of Kansans ages 18 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine. About 2.2 million doses of the vaccines have been administered in the state, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and more than 2.8 million doses have been distributed to health care providers.
Alice Weingartner, chief strategy officer for the Community Care Network of Kansas, said the network’s clinics are finding creative ways to connect to patients who may not have easy access to the vaccine. That includes working with ride sharing service Uber to bring people to vaccine appointments at no cost, as well as clinics setting up vaccine sites at places like laundromats and grocery stores.
“They’re really working hard to meet people where they are,” she said.
Weingartner said this push by the network is especially important because of the need to vaccinate at-risk populations, low income individuals, those with preexisting conditions and those without health insurance, given that those with underlying health conditions can be most susceptible to a severe case of COVID-19.
As of Friday, 5,106 Kansans have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, and more than 315,000 have been infected with the virus.
Clinics across Kansas are seeing greater access to more vaccines through both state and federal distribution channels, and it’s much easier to access a vaccine than it was several months ago.
Weingartner said the network is currently focused on the entire state, because both rural and urban areas have challenges in getting residents vaccinated. However, the network is focused on bridging the gap between the percentage of white individuals that are vaccinated and the percentage of people of color that are vaccinated. For those who identify as white, the vaccination rate is 350 per thousand, while the rate for those who identify as Black is 256 per thousand.
That’s part of the reason the clinics are given the ability to choose solutions that work for their specific communities. The network’s partnership with Uber is valuable to its inoculation efforts, because it allows for more certainty that a patient can return and get a second dose, even if the patient doesn’t have access to reliable transportation.
Other specialty events include church vaccination sites in Wyandotte and Sedgwick counties, and a middle school vaccination site in the Flint Hills. At a southeast Kansas clinic, a couple getting married can arrange for wedding guests to get vaccinated before their wedding.
For those still debating the vaccine, Weingartner recommended learning more through an accurate source, like the Kansas Vaccine Coalition, and added that the network clinics are here to help keep these communities healthy and safe, and the vaccination efforts are part of that.
“We will encourage people to do what needs to be done to ensure the health and wellbeing of our communities,” she said.
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