Get a booster shot now, if you qualify. Politics have made Kansas a high-risk area.

September 29, 2021 3:33 am

Millions of Americans now qualify for COVID-19 booster shots. In Kansas, writes opinion editor Clay Wirestone, those boosters amount to self-preservation. (Getty Images, CDC mapping)

I’m not a medical professional. But I do follow Kansas politics. That experience has convinced me that anyone who qualifies for a COVID-19 booster shot in our state should get one right away, for your personal safety and the sake of your family and friends.

The pandemic has scrambled leaders’ minds in Kansas. They’re working to spread disinformation about the vaccines, masks and basic protective measures. Some are calling for a special session to turn their dangerous nonsense into controlling law. Those decisions have real-life consequences for the rest of us. While about 71% of Kansans 12 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, about 29% haven’t. They’ve been informed, urged and cajoled but still haven’t gone through with it.

That’s fine. That’s their decision.

But that means the rest of us face a choice: Protect ourselves with an extra dose of vaccine or leave our health at the mercy of people who don’t care if folks around them die from a preventable illness. Our politicians have made all Kansans a high-risk group.

Let’s dig into what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended last week. Boosters are administered at least six months after your second dose of the Pfizer vaccine (Moderna and Johnson & Johnson recipients don’t qualify yet). Those who are over age 65, in nursing homes, or 50-64 years old with underlying medical conditions should receive a booster. Those who are 18-49 with underlying conditions or 18-64 and working in fields with high risk of COVID-19 exposure can receive one. In other words, millions of people will face a personal choice about whether boosters are right for them.

In Kansas, the political context points toward getting that booster, stat. In other states, the debate might be different. They have more immunized people and sensible public health policies. Folks in the can category might decide to wait and see what happens. They’re not facing constant risks from politicians who spread outrageous nonsense.

Kansas Reflector opinion editor Clay Wirestone receives his booster shot last week. (Clay Wirestone/Kansas Reflector)

You may think that even under those CDC guidelines, you won’t qualify for a booster. Please don’t assume.

The department’s lengthy list of underlying medical conditions includes being overweight or obese, smoking now or in the past, hypertension, substance use disorders (including alcohol use), and pregnancy. A broad swath of the public should qualify based on weight alone. As for working in fields with high risk of COVID-19 exposure, that’s another broad swath. Most who interact with members of the public every day would seem to have a strong case.

Doctors have different opinions about boosters. In Israel, which vaccinated much of its population earlier than the rest of the world, concerns about waning effectiveness have led to broad booster rollouts. Yet some health professionals in the United States remain unconvinced, urging that we focus on the unvaccinated or countries that need more shots instead.

Those points make sense. But I don’t believe they apply in Kansas.

First off, there’s no method I’m aware of to ship spare vaccines from Hutchinson or Dodge City to a suffering continent on the other side of the globe. We are awash in doses of COVID-19 vaccine that could soon expire. Secondly, many of our fellow Kansans are refusing to get vaccinated at all, and it’s unclear what would make them change their minds. While mandates could be effective, they could also deepen the political chasm between liberals and conservatives.

Facing this situation, and with the virus-prone winter months approaching, good sense points toward boosters for those Kansans who understand the reality of what we face. You should, obviously, consult with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.

For me, the course was clear.

The first day that boosters were available, I went online and booked an appointment at a local pharmacy. They had multiple spots available that afternoon. I rolled in at 2:30 p.m., checked a couple of boxes on a piece of paper and received my booster shot. After waiting the usual 15 minutes to watch for side effects, I was on my way.

We shouldn’t have to go through the pandemic on our own, making decisions solely for ourselves and our loved ones. But if Kansas politicians force it, I see no alternative for those of us who have worked the past 18 months to do the right thing.

If you qualify, protect yourself.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone has written columns and edited reporting for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, cnn.com and a host of other publications. Most recently, Clay spent nearly four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics, and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.