February 21, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Are COVID vaccine doses collecting dust in Kansas? Kelly won’t say

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There may be extra COVID vaccine doses in Kansas pharmacies, but Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration won’t respond to emails or phone calls from the Sentinel inquiring about the possibility of leftover doses.

The New York Times has the national story today.

“Millions of doses of coronavirus vaccine are still sitting in freezers, allocated in excess to nursing homes or stockpiled for later use,” the Times writes. “Now states are claiming them.”

When the federal government created its plan to supply long-term care facilities with COVID vaccine doses, they calculated the numbers using bed capacity, not actual residents. The decision to use bed space and not actual census resulted in leftover doses. The Sentinel learned from anonymous sources last week that local pharmacies need permission from state health departments to administer the leftovers. The Sentinel asked Gov. Kelly’s administration about these doses on Monday but has yet to receive a response from the administration, from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, or from the Kansas Department of Disability and Aging Services. 

Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, a Galena Republican and chair of the Senate Public Health and Welfare committee, said that is the Kelly administration’s modus operandi.

“Absolutely zero transparency,” he said. “I don’t even know if they have an understanding of where everything is at or how anything functions. Anytime legislators ask a question, we get the same thing. It’s very frustrating, the lack of transparency and communication.”

Kansas lags the nation in vaccine administration

The Kelly administration did not respond to the Sentinel’s requests about whether KDHE granted that permission or how many extra doses Kansas received.  Specifically, the Sentinel explained in an email the likely discrepancy in how the Centers for Disease Control allocated vaccine doses compared to the actual need. The email noted that the government-contracted pharmacies needed permission from KDHE to administer extra doses to individuals who did not live or work in nursing homes. The Sentinel asked whether the administration granted that permission, whether all of the vaccines for nursing home facilities had been administered, and the number of possible additional doses.  But as is most often the case when the media ask tough questions, the administration did not respond to emails or phone calls.

As the Times reports, the pharmacy allotments are based on nursing home bed space, despite nationwide nursing home capacity at 68% and 78% in assisted living facilities. The nursing home allotments included doses for staff, but in some locations, fewer than 50% of staff are taking the shot.

Kansas continues to rank near the bottom in vaccines distributed, according to the CDC and other tracking websites. The Kelly administration says the numbers do not reflect reality. They attribute the low numbers to lags in reporting.

“I feel like we can give really good assurances that the vaccines are getting into people. The data continues to lag. We need to fix the IT systems. These interfaces between these IT systems is where the problem is occurring,” Dr. Lee Norman, Secretary of KDHE, told press earlier this week.

If it’s good news, the Kelly administration takes credit; the bad news gets blamed on someone or something else.

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