Johnson County to begin vaccinating those 65 and older this week — here’s what you need to know

Johnson County vaccines

County health officials say they anticipate wrapping up vaccine clinics for people 80 and older this week. Appointments for county-run clinics for those in the 65-79 age group are already being filled up for Wednesday. Image courtesy the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment.

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After weeks of focusing its clinics on those 80 years and older, the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment expects to expand its vaccination distribution to people 65 and older this week.

First dose vaccine appointments for people older than 80 should wrap up with Tuesday’s planned clinics, county health director Sanmi Areola, Ph.D., said. Clinics for those in the 65-79 age group should begin Wednesday.

The timeline on when everyone in this age group will get their vaccine remains unclear, though it could still be several weeks until all eligible individuals in the 65-79 age group receive their doses, either through the county or at clinics run by local health systems or pharmacies.

“While I can’t answer definitively when your turn will be,” Areola said, “shaving off 6,000 to 7,000 persons from the pool that we’re picking from increases your chances every single week.”

This week, JCDHE is also expecting some 3,500 more doses  to arrive in its weekly allotment from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

County health officials say they should have between 10,000 and 11,000 doses available for distribution this week.

“We’re all working toward the same goal. You want the vaccine, we want to give it to you,” Areola said.

Health systems continue to vaccinate those 65+

Local health systems have been vaccinating people 65 and older for weeks now, as the county has focused on those 80 and older.

JCDHE has been allocating doses to local hospitals systems, but Areola has previously said that while all health systems have received some doses, the amount they get is probably lower than what they want.

Scott Stone, vice president of human resources at Overland Park Regional Medical Center, sent an email last week to patients who were scheduled to receive vaccines at the health system’s upcoming clinics. In it, Stone said  first dose appointments at the hospital’s clinics had been canceled for the foreseeable future.

“We know this will be very disappointing news for many and we couldn’t feel worse about having to do this,” Stone said in the email.

In a statement Monday, a JCHDE spokesperson Barbara Mitchell said the county could not provide Overland Park Regional doses last week due to the county’s focus on trying to finish up vaccinations for the 80+ group. Mitchell said Overland Park Regional has received supplies for this week.

It’s unclear when or if previously canceled vaccine appointments at Overland Park Regional will be rescheduled.

In general, Areola said hospitals have a high capacity to administer vaccines, but the supply from the state and federal governments still isn’t large enough to tap into that infrastructure.

Hospitals are currently focused on vaccinating their patients. However, some allow nonpatients to register their interest. Information about getting on each hospital’s list to receive a vaccine through their clinics can be found here.

Educator vaccines on track to finish soon

Elizabeth Holzschuh, the county heath department’s director of epidemiology, said the county is nearly half way through vaccinating K-12 educators and childcare workers and could finish with this population sometime in March.

The county is expecting more doses to start coming from the state specifically meant for educators and childcare workers. Gov. Laura Kelly has said the state will prioritize more doses coming from the federal government for educators, in order to allow schools to reopen more fully sooner.

Johnson County’s clinics for educators and childcare workers will continue to run through Children’s Mercy Hospital.

Moving to other Phase 2 priority groups

As part of Phase 2 of Kansas’ vaccine plan, Johnson County has opted for a tiered approach that prioritizes higher risk or higher contact groups at different points.

Included in the county’s Tier 1 of Phase 2 are educators, childcare workers, first responders and those 65 and older.

Other groups in Tier 1 include essential employees, like grocery store and food service workers. However, people in these groups could still be waiting a few more weeks before the county’s vaccine clinics open up to them, Areola said.

“I will not be able to tell you specifically when, but I can tell you that’s going to be occurring after we have moved through the 65-plus [population],” Areola said.

Supplies will determine the timeline, but he expects it to be four to five more weeks, which means vaccinations for those groups may not start until April.

“You are very important in this effort, you are high up on our priority list, and I don’t want to give the impression that because we’re focused on our more vulnerable group — our older population — that you are any less important,” Areola said. “We just don’t have enough vaccine, and we’re having to prioritize our most vulnerable population.”

To register your interest to receive a vaccine in Phase 2, click here.