Weekly COVID-19 Update: JoCo health officials say low vaccine supply is hampering Phase 2 effort

While Johnson County health officials say efforts to vaccinate residents remain stymied by a lack of vaccine, there is one bit of good news: COVID-19 incidence in the county has been in a decline the last week. Above, Johnson County Department of Health and Environment director Sanmi Areola receives his COVID-19 vaccination. Photo via JCHDE Twitter. 

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‘There’s one problem with the vaccine and that is there’s too little of it’

On Tuesday, Phase 2 vaccinations officially began in Johnson County with a mass vaccination clinic targeted at prioritized individuals (mostly individuals 80-years-old and older) at Okun Fieldhouse in Shawnee, but it didn’t go off without a hitch.

And Johnson County Department of Health and Environment director Sanmi Areola, said he thinks it will be a few weeks before the county is ready to start vaccinating other prioritized individuals in Phase 2.

So what’s causing the hold up? According to several local health officials, including Elizabeth Holzschuh, JCDHE epidemiology director, the lack of vaccine availability is slowing down the process.

“Unfortunately, because of reduced doses that we are receiving in our community, we are not able to open it up to the entire Phase 2 category,” Holzschuh said. “We have to focus on individuals at [the] highest risk for COVID-19 disease and the subsequent severe outcomes.”

So, for now, people 80-years-old and older, as well as people who are unvaccinated from Phase 1, will be the focus of distribution efforts through JCDHE.

Phase 2 is expected to have the most people to vaccinate than any other phase in the Kansas COVID-19 distribution plan, meaning it should take the longest. The most optimistic of projections don’t have Phase 3 beginning in Kansas until late March, but even that’s uncertain.

“There’s one problem with the vaccine and that is there’s too little of it,” Dr. Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said on Tuesday’s University of Kansas Health System daily COVID-19 briefing. “I don’t have any reason for optimism that there’s going to be any uptick in the number of doses. I wish I could be more upbeat than that about it.”

Here’s a look at the overall trends in Johnson County

In Johnson County and across the metro area, new COVID-19 cases are trending downward. Johnson County’s positivity rate fell three percentage points — from 12.7% last week to 9.2%.

As of Wednesday, data from JCDHE has new cases per 100,000 residents metric at 456, a steep decline from the week before.

Data via Johnson County Department of Health and Environment COVID-19 dashboard.

That doesn’t mean the worst is behind Johnson County.

“COVID-19 is still present in our community and circulating at fairly high levels, and so you are still at risk as you venture into our community and partake in different activities,” Holzschuh warned.

Virus mutation could be in Kansas

Norman said it’s possible at least one of the more transmissible variants of the novel coronavirus, which is spreading across the United States, is now present in Kansas.

An outbreak at the Winfield Correctional Facility in Cowley County, in particular, is a concern.

That outbreak is behaving differently than normal outbreaks have, transmitting cases at a higher rate and has now spread out of the prison population into the community, Norman said. Scientists are currently working to on genomic sequencing for the outbreak to determine whether or not a variant is present.

Evidence doesn’t suggest the UK strain is any deadlier than the strain currently spreading through the Kansas population, but it is believed to be more transmissible.

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