To gain insight about how the Wyandotte County Unified Government Public Health Department is working to vaccinate vulnerable populations, Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Laura Kelly toured the National Guard Armory located at 18th and Ridge Avenue, the newest COVID-19 vaccination site in Wyandotte County.
Working to ensure Kansans of color are vaccinated equitably, Kelly said the state is looking at Wyandotte County and the UG’s Health Equity Task Force for strategies to take into other communities across Kansas.
“It’s clear that what we were doing was not addressing the problem aggressively enough,” Kelly said. “That’s why we’re here today — to renew our focus.”
The Health Equity Task Force, charged with strategizing equitable vaccinations across the county, shared their successes and challenges with Kelly at the new vaccination site, pointing out that the new eastern vaccination site will be more accessible to those parts of the county that have had higher numbers of COVID-19 cases.
Until the new location opened at the Armory, just blocks off I 70 and 18th St., the vaccine locations ins Wyandotte County were west with one location at 78th and State and even further west at 105th and Parallel Pkwy.
“We have more vulnerable populations that live nearby (the eastern vaccination site),” Mayor David Alvey said at the site opening. “We’re going to be able to better serve those people in our community who are most at risk.”
But there have been concerns from those in eastern Wyandotte County, which has been historically underserved.
Only 5% of the population has been vaccinated in the 66101-zip code, which has experienced one of the county’s highest COVID-19 incidence rates. Compare that to the vaccination rate of 13% in 66112, which is the zip code where the State Street vaccine center is located.
While the new location is welcome, there’s still a service void in northeast Wyandotte County. Individuals east, but north of Central can be as far as nine miles from the new eastside location.
“To say that you made it more accessible to the eastern part (of Wyandotte County) is a lie that is inexcusable,” said Chester Owens, a resident in the 66101-zip code of eastern Wyandotte County.
Owens would like to see the UG create more vaccination sites in partnership with churches, like Truman Medical Center in Kansas City has done with Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church.
“I think anybody who has any moral integrity should be angry when you’re leaving old people out here,” Owens said. “How many people have probably died because they couldn’t get the shot and didn’t know where to go?”
UG representatives say that Kansas’ phasing has in some ways contributed to the lack of diversity in administering the vaccines. Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the Kansas vaccine plan are based heavily on employment, with priority given to “high contact critical workers,” such as healthcare workers, first responders, and educators, etc.
“Workers in these industries do not necessarily reflect our population as a whole,” wrote Sally Behringer, with ModOp public relations.
When the state moves into Phase 3, which opens vaccinations to individuals as young as 18, the UG has set prioritization for administering the vaccines to individuals in three zip codes with high poverty levels and where there was a disproportionately high percentage of COVID incidences. Those zip codes, 66101, 66102, and 66105 are all in east Wyandotte County and further north.
At the press conference, Gov. Kelly said she does not expect the state to move to Phase 3 until April.
Nicole Gardner, planning and operations manager of the Health Equity Task Force assured that the new eastern location will help with the disparities in vaccine distribution.
“This has been in the works for quite some time, but this is a government facility, so it takes a little while to get things done,” Gardner said. “But the main goal is opening this site so that people in those specific zip codes where COVID has hit the most, that they have access to getting vaccinated.”
To further help improve vaccination rates in communities of color, the county’s Health Equity Task Force is moving from their focus on increasing COVID testing to increasing vaccinations. To help increase COVID testing, the task force set up “pop-up” testing locations, at lot of them in churches. It’s a model that could be followed for vaccinations.
So far, HETF members have helped with the development of a vaccine communications campaign the UG recently launched. Last week, the task force started working last week to vaccinate people in their homes, reaching those who may be homebound.
“As we get more vaccines, we will go out into the community and provide it,” Gardner said.
Wyandotte County health officials emphasize people who want to be vaccinated have to fill out the Unified Government Public Health Department’s vaccine interest form at ughealth.info/vaccine. From there, click on the large button that says “Fill Out the Vaccine Interest Form.”
For those without an internet connection, call 311 for assistance in filling out the form. Once you have filled out the form, you’ll receive updates on when you are eligible for a vaccine and how to make an appointment.