Johnson County vaccine FAQ: are vaccines being fairly distributed?

Johnson County vaccine hub

This week's Johnson County vaccine FAQ focuses on questions from readers who want more information about how the county and local health systems are trying to be fair in how they distribute a limited number of doses. Image courtesy of Johnson County Department of Health and Environment.

Each Friday, the Shawnee Mission Post publishes a Johnson County vaccine FAQ, answering our readers’ questions about the process to get vaccinated for COVID-19 in Johnson County.

You can read our past FAQs on the county’s vaccine interest survey and the state and county’s priority lists of vaccinations.

This week’s FAQ focuses on questions from readers who want more information about how the county and local health systems are trying to be fair in how they distribute a limited number of doses.

How much data do we have on who is getting vaccinated in Johnson County?

  • Right now, the answer is: not much.
  • Vaccines in Johnson County are being distributed through the county, as well as by a number of local private hospital systems and pharmacies, complicating accurate data collection.
  • County director of epidemiology Elizabeth Holzschuh said data on what zip codes recipients come from is also incomplete, though they hope to get more accurate demographic data in the future.
  • Meanwhile, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s statewide vaccine tracker breaks down recipients by sex and age but not by race or socioeconomic status.
  • As of Friday, more than 64% of vaccine recipients in the state are women (not a surprise, since two of the targeted occupational groups for vaccines — health care workers and educators — are disproportionately female).
  • Also, nearly 50% of vaccine recipients in Kansas are 65 and older. That reflects the fact that older residents are being prioritized for vaccines in Phase 2.

Is the county doing anything to try to ensure vaccines are being given out fairly? 

  • Holzschuh said the county does hope to get more accurate demographic data in order to help make distribution as equitable as possible, especially in coming weeks as the county moves on to younger age groups, which are generally more diverse racially and socioeconomically than those 65 and older.
  • Holzschuh said the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment is having conversations with entities — like religious organizations and the Johnson County chapter of the NAACP — to reach communities within Johnson County who might be missed or marginalized.
  • There are also some targeted media campaigns in the works aimed at raising awareness about vaccines in Johnson County’s Hispanic communities.
  • “It’s important that we really make sure we are comprehensive in our education efforts and in our outreach to ensure that everybody feels safe and secure obtaining the vaccine and have the ability to actually get it,” Holzschuh said.

How are the county and local health systems reaching out to people who don’t have Internet access?

  • The simple answer is: trying to call them.
  • For the most part, vaccine registration and interest surveys for the county and local health systems are being done online.
  • Sanmi Areola, Johnson County’s health director, asks people with access to the Internet to help family members and friends who do not to fill out the online interest form.
  • Olathe Medical Center is calling patients who are eligible but don’t use virtual hospital services, Lindsey Elliott, director of public relations said. The University of Kansas Medical Center’s center manager Jana Jackson said they are also fielding about 900 calls a day related to vaccines.
  • To register your interest in receiving a vaccine with JCDHE without filling out the virtual form, call 913-715-2819.

Why have teachers been prioritized ahead of those 65+ and people with chronic health conditions? 

  • In part, that comes down to schools’ vital role in the larger community, Holzschuh said.
  • JCDHE has prioritized teachers in Phase 2 of the county’s vaccine rollout because of the belief that the quicker teachers can be vaccinated, the sooner and more confidently schools can reopen safely for in-person learning.
  • That, in turn, will relieve stress on parents and families who have had to accommodate kids learning at home for months now while trying to work from home or holding down jobs outside the house.
  • The broader phased priority groupings for vaccination distribution are mandated by the state, which means JCDHE has little say in when groups get to go based on age or health conditions.
  • People younger than 64 and those with serious health conditions, like heart disease, cancer and respiratory problems, are sorted into Phases 3 and 4 of the state’s vaccine rollout plan.

How exactly are names being selected from among the thousands of people who have expressed interest in getting vaccinated?

  • In general, JCDHE says, individuals who are eligible to be vaccinated are being selected based on the order in which they signed up.
  • Throughout the vaccination distribution so far, JCDHE has prioritized the oldest residents at its county-run clinics, which means that some people 80 and older may have jumped ahead of others in the 65-79 age group, even if they filled out the interest survey later.
  • Starting the week of March 1, however, JCDHE says it plans to join local health systems and pharmacies in vaccinating people 65 and older, after it wraps up its last clinic reserved for people who are 80+.
  • For information about getting on the list for local health systems or signing up for a vaccine from a pharmacy, click here.