The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has ordered Riley County health officials to cease COVID vaccine distribution. The problem? The county is nearing completion of Phase 2 of the state’s vaccination plan and is ready to move to Phase 3. The Kelly administration says the county must stop until other counties catch up.

“KDHE said that was not acceptable and that we have to follow their phases, that there is no flexibility,” Alice Massimi, Riley County public information officer, told the Topeka Capital-Journal.

Former Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer, a medical doctor, says even the Centers for Disease Control recognizes the importance of flexibility.

“Counties do not have to be in lockstep and be in the same phase,” Colyer said. “105 counties can’t vaccinate everybody in lockstep. We need flexibility.”

According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, KDHE opposed Riley County prioritizing high-risk individuals rather than workers that the state deemed to be essential. Officially, Kansas is in Phase 2 of the state’s vaccination plan. That includes individuals over the age of 65 and individuals in congregate living settings. It also includes high contact critical workers like firefighters, police, and grocery store and food service workers. Riley county officials hoped to vaccinate individuals under the age of 65 with severe medical risks, like 64-year-old cancer survivors. KDHE told the county to wait. Phase 3 includes people between the ages of 16 and 64 with severe medical conditions. State officials anticipate a move to Phase 3 in late March.

“That’s just not right,” Colyer said. “That’s not the best lifesaving move.”

Kansas lags the nation in vaccine administration

Kansas continues to lag behind other states in the race to vaccinate its residents. Among the states, Kansas consistently ranks lower than 45 states in daily vaccine trackers published by researchers like John Hopkins University and media outlets like Bloomberg.

“West Virginia is beating us. Missouri is beating us,” Colyer says. 

The Kelly administration says Kansas vaccinations are keeping pace with other states, but reporting lags make it appear as if the state lags the nation. Kansas House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, however, says the decision to slow Riley County’s distribution suggests otherwise.

“Once again, Governor Kelly’s administration has gotten in the way of vaccine distribution and delayed the process for at-risk Kansans,” Kansas House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins said. “The Governor has claimed all along that Kansas is trailing most of the country in vaccine distribution only because of reporting delays, but the problems clearly run much deeper. Incompetence isn’t a strong enough term for the Governor’s failures. When will it stop? When will Governor Kelly start putting Kansans first?”

Dave Trabert, CEO of Kansas Policy Institute, which owns the Sentinel, says the Kelly administration is practicing a form of socialized medicine.

“Governor Kelly wants to decide who gets vaccinated first, not based on who is most vulnerable, but on her political whims.  This a prime example of why government can never be put in charge of health care.”

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