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COVID-19 vaccine won't be widely seen until spring

Margaret Allen
Hays Daily News

It will probably be March or April before there’s widespread distribution in Ellis County of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Kansas will receive around 24- to 25,000 of the doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and around the 22nd, maybe 16,000 of the Moderna,” said Ellis County Health Director Jason Kennedy. “Those numbers obviously don’t go far when you look at the population of Kansas. However it is a bright spot that it is moving forward.”

In an update Monday to the Ellis County Commissioners at their regular meeting in the Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main, Kennedy mentioned that the first dose of the vaccine was given in Kansas on Monday. It was administered to a hospital worker in Wichita.

Visualization of COVID-19

“We do believe that sometime this week there will be Pfizer vaccine in the community,” he said. “It will be prioritized for frontline health care workers, hospital staff.”

Distribution to the general public is difficult, he said, because the Pfizer vaccine requires extreme cold storage and specialty mixing.

The Moderna vaccine, which is still awaiting approval, is prioritized for emergency services personnel and other frontline workers dealing with COVID-19 response, Kennedy said.

Besides hospital workers, the first few runs of vaccine will be for the specially hospitalized, long-term care residents, EMS, public health workers, others in that capacity, and then ultimately the general public.

County Commissioner Dustin Roths asked if priority can change under some circumstances.

“Most of the health care people that I know that work out at HaysMed have all had the coronavirus,” Roths said. “Do you move back on prioritization if you’ve already contracted COVID-19?”

Kennedy said that’s a question for a person to ask their doctor.

Bright spots

Cases, hospitalizations and testing all have been declining in Ellis County, as well as the percentage of positives, Kennedy said. As of Wednesday, there were 49 new cases, with a seven-day average of new cases of 17. There have been 15,545 tests, with 17.8% of those positive, and the seven-day average percent of positive is 21.3%, according to the health department's latest posted numbers. Thirty Ellis County residents have died.

As of Monday there were still 13 Ellis County residents hospitalized, Kennedy said. Since Hays Medical Center also treats people from the region, hospital capacity will always be an issue, said Kennedy.

“They are not at crisis capacity. They are not giving crisis care in the parking lot,” he said. “If you are sick, if you need care, go to the hospital. You can go to the ED, you can get treatment, you can get a room if need be. They will find places to treat the critically ill, but hospital capacity will be a day-by-day process as we work through the rest of the winter.“

Flu season hasn’t arrived in Ellis County yet, and current numbers are extremely low, Kennedy said.

“As we see those go up, we’ll continue to see hospital capacity issues throughout,” he said. “It will be a constant process as we work our way through the winter. This vaccine will help. A large amount of our hospitalized patients and almost all of our mortality has come from the long-term care residents. As we get vaccinations into the long-term care facilities, it will help with both hospitalizations and mortality.”

To see the providers authorized to give the vaccine, Kennedy said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a vaccine-finder website.

“There is currently no one in Ellis County signed up on that website, but don't panic," he said. "There will be. Anyone that will be authorized to give the COVID-19 vaccines will have to be signed up on the vaccine-finder website. So people will be able to go to that website and see what provider or where in the community they can go get the vaccine.”

Poopy measure

City of Hays has been doing waste water treatment for several months to gauge the amount of COVID-19 in the community. Kennedy said the results haven't been surprising.

"It's a different snapshot of what's going on in our community," Kennedy said. "We have actually seen a leveling off of our case rates, as far as the waste water is showing us. We do still have fairly high levels of COVID, but we have seen a reduction."

This platform removes the human element out of the equation, Kennedy said, although it doesn't deliver a specific number of people infected, but rather trends.

"Because testing doesn't change this. It is literally just what you are excreting," he said. "It's neat to see that it truly has coincided, at least over the last two or three months, with what our visible case rate is."

Likewise, the Red Cross does antibody testing on all blood donated. They've found that about 10% of people in our area have had COVID-19, Kennedy said.

"It's a fairly good indicator," he said. "We have had 22,000-some cases that we've actively found infected with PCR testing ... No matter what number we look at, we still have a large amount of the population that hasn't had COVID."

Vaccines in the United States are overwhelmingly safe, said Kennedy.

"I feel that this one will be very safe," he said.

People need to continue to make good choices, he said, like wearing masks, washing hands, not gathering in groups and social distancing. That's the case, even once the vaccine becomes widely adopted, Kennedy said, noting that people have to decide for themselves if the vaccine is right for them.

“Don’t listen to the information that you get off C-Span, and don’t listen to the information off Fox News, actually go do the research yourself and determine whether the vaccine is good for you," he said. "Work with your primary health care provider, work with your doctor, use their recommendation.”