Johnson County vaccine FAQ: How are hospitals and the county deciding who gets vaccinated?

Johnson County vaccine FAQ

Johnson County continues to focus on those 80 and older at its clinics, while it has encouraged local hospitals to vaccinate patients who are 65 and older. While this has caused some confusion and frustration, the county says having multiple providers giving vaccines will allow more people to get doses more quickly. Image courtesy the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment.

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Each Friday, the Shawnee Mission Post will publish answers to questions we’ve received from readers about the process to get vaccinated in Johnson County.

This week’s FAQ focuses on questions from readers who want more information about how the county and local health systems are prioritizing people for vaccination and why vaccine availability continues to be so limited.

Why is the county only vaccinating people 80 and older? 

  • In Tier 1 of Phase 2 of the county’s rollout plan, people 65 years and older are eligible to get vaccinated.
  • But the reason county-run clinics are focusing on those 80 and older is because those clinics are meant to target people at the highest risk of serious illness if they contract COVID-19, director of epidemiology Elizabeth Holzschuch said.
  • The county has made a push in the last week to try to get to all of those people 80 and older who have filled out the county’s interest survey, and health officials say they hope to move on to vaccinating those in the 65-79 age group in the next few weeks.

But hospitals are vaccinating those 65 and older. Why? 

  • Short answer: because the county told them to.
  • While the county’s clinic focuses on those 80 and older, the county has encouraged hospitals to start distributing vaccines to their own patients who are 65 and older as a way to reach more people more quickly.
  • Ever since, hospitals have been primarily focused on vaccinating their own patients who are 65 and older, while the county has focused on the 80+ group.

How are hospitals prioritizing who gets vaccines? 

  • It likely varies, and we have not heard from every hospital system what their internal process is for filling up vaccination slots at their clinics.
  • AdventHealth and University of Kansas Health System both say they are inviting eligible people from their patient lists using randomized pools of names and not prioritizing certain individuals or groups.
  • Criteria for who qualifies as a patient also may differ from hospital to hospital. KU, for instance, considers anyone who has received treatment there in the past three years to be  on their patient list.
  • If you think you’re a patient or have had treatment recently at some hospital, you should check with that provider to see if you qualify to get a vaccine there.

So, if I’m over 65 but not a patient at a major hospital, am I out of luck right now?

  • Not entirely, but it may be tougher for you to find a vaccine slot currently.
  • Some non-patients have been able to secure appointments through hospitals by filling out hospitals’ vaccine interest forms online that are open to the general public. To find out more about how each major hospital system in Johnson County is registering people’s interest click here.
  • There are also now a very limited number of doses being offered for those 65 and older through select retail pharmacies in Johnson County. These slots have also been filling up quickly.
  • Also, make sure you fill out the county’s vaccine interest survey (this is separate from hospitals’ interest forms). That will put your name on the county’s rolls when they finally get to the 65-79 group.
  • In general, health officials advise residents 65 and older to sign up to receive the vaccine through as many avenues as possible. That will increases your chance of being offered a vaccine appointment somewhere.

What if I’m younger than 65 but have a serious underlying health condition. Do I still have to wait? 

  • Right now, the answer unfortunately is: yes.
  • Age, under Kansas’ phased vaccine distribution plan, is the primary factor being considered for who gets vaccinated right now. That is beyond the county’s control.
  • County health departments in Kansas are allowed to break down the state’s phases into priority groups — as it has done in Tier 1 of Phase 2, choosing to inoculate educators and first responders, in addition to those 65 and older — but the county cannot move on to future phases that include younger people, until the state does.
  • People younger than 65 with severe underlying health conditions, including cancer, chronic kidney disease, sickle cell and heart conditions, are part of Phase 3 of the state’s rollout, as are pregnant women. A full breakdown of the state’s phased vaccine rollout is available here.

Are hospitals getting their own vaccines separate from the county’s allotment?

  • No, there are not separate streams of doses going to Johnson County hospitals. All doses go through the county health department currently.
  • Johnson County has been receiving between 5,800 and 7,000 first doses a week through the state. And those doses are divided among the county’s clinic and local health systems.
  • How many doses each health system receives changes each week depending on a number of factors. For instance, in the past week roughly 1,900 doses were allotted for residents and staff at unlicensed senior living communities. Those were 1,900 doses, then, that did not end up going to hospitals.

Do we know how many doses have been administered in Johnson County so far? 

  • The county says by the end of Friday, more than 50,000 Johnson County residents will have received at least their first dose, including roughly 40% of educators and school staff.
  • Doses administered by local health systems are included in that countywide total.
  • AdventHealth has been receiving up to 2,000 doses a week, according to a spokesperson, and has now vaccinated roughly 10,000 people, including employees.
  • Olathe Medical Center said Thursday it had vaccinated about 4,000 patients 65 and older and anticipated vaccinating another 2,000 by the end of next week.

When are more doses coming?

  • Hopefully soon. There have been some promising developments suggesting vaccine supply could pick up in coming weeks.
  • The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said this week that the federal government plans to double the number of doses Kansas has been receiving each week.
  • Gov. Laura Kelly said she wants to use some of those extra doses to coordinate the vaccination of more K-12 educators statewide so schools can reopen sooner.
  • In addition the number of doses being administered at local retail pharmacies is also expected to grow in coming weeks.

Will the recent winter weather affect vaccine distribution?

  • It’s possible.
  • The problem won’t be next week’s forecast — it’s expected to be much warmer — but shipping delays this week have left many Kansas communities without the doses they need for clinics next week, KDHE’s director of communications Kristi Zears said.
  • As of Thursday, Johnson County said it hadn’t received its doses for next week’s clinics. That has made it difficult to plan since the county is hesitant to open appointments for vaccines it doesn’t yet have.