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First COVID-19 vaccines given to hospital workers

Andrew Bahl
Butler County Times Gazette
The first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine given in Butler County were given to healthcare workers at Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital on Dec. 17.

The first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Butler County this week, with the first doses administered Thursday to medical staff at Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital. 

The medical center received 50 doses, giving them to medical center staff on Dec. 17 and 18.

"I can't tell you how thrilled we are to finally be able to offer this our frontline workers," said Leonard Hernandez, president and CEO of the hospital. "Our staff and medical staff have been working tirelessly and this will be a boost in our ability to provide care for our community as we combat this disease."

The arrival of the vaccine in Kansas provides relief for many health care officials, who finally are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

"It feels so incredibly positive to begin this journey to end this pandemic," said Robert Kenagy, CEO of Stormont Vail Health in Topeka.

But now that vaccines are being administered, what happens now? We took a closer look.

Who has already received the vaccine?

The initial round of 23,750 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived in Kansas on Monday. Shortly afterward, Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Wichita began inoculating some of its employees with the first doses administered in the state.

Wednesday, however, was expected to be the day when more hospitals would start immunizations.

Stormont Vail Health in Topeka administered its first vaccine doses to three health care workers Wednesday morning, with upwards of 600 appointments scheduled over the course of the day. LMH Health in Lawrence was expecting to begin vaccinating its staff in the afternoon as well.

When will the vaccine get to my area?

State officials have underscored that they will be pushing the vaccine out to urban and rural areas at the same time, with the western and southeastern parts of the state among those most heavily affected by COVID-19.

"We're covering all the areas, every one of the 105 counties, right out of the chute because the priority people in the first phase are in every county," said Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Norman said 150,000 Kansans are expected to get the vaccine before the end of the month.

Officials at Ascension Via Christi's Pittsburg hospital say they will begin administering the vaccine by the end of the week.

The first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine arrived at Newton Med this week.

When will the state get more of the vaccine?

A second shipment of the Pfizer vaccine is coming next week, KDHE reports. That is alongside an expected shipment of the Moderna immunization, provided it receives final authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.

But Stormont Vail officials were told the next shipment will be focused on the state's long-term care facilities, which means it will be going to CVS and Walgreens, which are being tasked by the federal government with handling vaccinations in those facilities.

The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses, and the hospital will get those booster shots for health care workers who receive the vaccine this week. 

But Sridevi Donepudi, the hospital's chief medical quality officer, said they would not be getting any more immunizations until that point, which will likely be in a couple of weeks.

How is the vaccine distributed?

The distribution will vary across the state and the immense undertaking will be supported by state officials, including the Kansas National Guard.

In Topeka, Stormont Vail employees have spent the last three and a half weeks converting an exhibition hall at Stormont Vail Events Center into a venue for vaccine distribution.

Personnel make an appointment online and then go to the events center to receive the vaccine, including being monitored for potential side effects.

Eventually, the facility can give out 2,000 vaccinations per day, officials say. It will support essential workers in the region and, eventually, the general public.

When can I get the vaccine?

Those who work in a health care facility or are a resident or staff member at a long-term care facility will continue to receive top priority for the vaccine.

Because the state still doesn't have enough of the vaccine to cover all those who are interested in receiving it, those individuals will continue to be at the forefront.

But the state continues its work to determine who will be next in line. Those individuals are expected to be primarily essential workers, including first responders, teachers and those who work at meatpacking plants. 

Those individuals will likely receive the vaccine in January, Gov. Laura Kelly said Tuesday.

Also getting priority will be those age 65 and older, as well as those with serious underlying health conditions that put them at risk for COVID-19 complications.

As for the members of the general public? KDHE has said it hopes to begin doling out the vaccine to those who want it in late spring or early summer, although the department said the timeline is still in flux.

Will I still have to wear a mask once I get the vaccine?

Yes.

Clifford Jones, an infectious disease specialist at Stormont Vail, said "there are so many things we don't know" about whether the vaccine actually slows transmission of the virus.

Hospital staff will continue to wear masks and take other precautions, and the expectation, Brown said, is for that to continue for some time.

"We will know it when we see it," he said of when pre-pandemic life might be able to resume in earnest. 

Norman is also urging vigilance, noting that the vaccine's arrival isn't a cue for residents to slack off on mask-wearing, social distancing and frequent hand washing.

“We cannot let our guard down until we have (a) significantly higher number of people who are immunized,” he said.

About 50 doses were made up the first shipment of a COVID-19 vaccine to Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital in El Dorado. [COURTESY]

Chad Frey, of The Newton Kansan, contributed to this report.