Governor 'OK' with 2nd round of shots; Kansas economy slumps


December 18, 2020

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Gov. Laura Kelly expressed little concern Friday over a smaller-than-expected second shipment of a coronavirus vaccine for Kansas, adding that she expects the state's plan for distributing shots in coming months to boost an economy that has slowed recently.

Kelly said the reduction in the state's second shipment of a vaccine made by Pfizer is "more of a smoothing process" by the federal government to make sure health care workers who received the first of two doses this week can get the second in January. At least a dozen states have reported that they will receive fewer doses next week than anticipated.

The governor's comments during a teleconference with local and state officials came as the state Department of Health and Environment reported that Kansas has surpassed 200,000 confirmed and probable coronavirus cases for the pandemic, or about one for every 15 of its 2.9 million residents. The state also reported total 2,341 COVID-19 deaths, adding 88 to the tally since Wednesday.

Kansas received its first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine this week, the first of two doses for 23,750 people, and it focused on distributing them to hospitals so that they could vaccinate health care workers at high-risk of coronavirus exposure. The state had anticipated receiving another 29,000 doses next week but now expects 39% fewer doses, or 17,550.

"I heard this morning that the reason that this is being done is that they needed to smooth out the quantity of deliveries, if they had delivered as many as they had proposed to deliver next week, then they were not going to have enough for people to get their second dose," she said. "I think we're OK on that."

The governor celebrated the relatively widespread distribution of the first shipment, with at least a few doses going to hospitals in rural areas. Kelly said about 100 of the state's 105 counties have received vaccines and the ones that haven't either didn't cite a need for it or weren't prepared to give shots this week.

In northeast Kansas, Marshall County, with about 9,700 residents, had fewer than 100 cases at the beginning of November and now has almost 600, or one for every 16 residents. It went from having no reported COVID-19 deaths to 21 as the virus swept through nursing homes.

The county hospital on Thursday lined up its first group of employees to get shots in front of a Christmas tree in the lobby, said spokeswoman Ashley Kracht.

"Really this vaccine is a turning point emotionally as much as anything else," she said. "I think all of our staff would probably say, 'We are doing our best to kind of keep keep our heads above water. We just feel like we are constantly treading water so this really gives us the ability to say, 'We might float.' Something better is coming."

Kansas' plan for distributing the vaccines calls for giving shots first to at-risk health care workers, nursing home workers and nursing home residents. Vaccines are supposed to start for all adults next spring.

"It should foster economic recovery," Kelly said. "We can enter the new year with confidence that life will return to normal in a matter of months. We're not there yet."

Kelly herself does not plan to get vaccinated until "it is her turn," spokeswoman Lauren Fitzgerald said. State legislators also are not getting special treatment.

"She will be vaccinated publicly to reinforce the safety and importance of getting vaccinated," Fitzgerald said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press.

But the hope — and for some health care workers, joy — over the first vaccine's arrival came amid bad news about the Kansas economy.

The state Department of Labor has reported a growing number of initial claims for unemployment benefits in recent weeks. More than 39,000 such claims were filed during the week ending Dec. 12, an increase of 95% over the second week of November's roughly 20,000 claims and more than 20 times the number of claims filed during the second week of December 2019.

The Department of Labor said Friday that the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose in November to 5.6%, up from 5% in October and compared with 3.1% for November 2019. The state's pandemic-fueled unemployment rate peaked at 11.9% in April and had been dropping until November.

The state health department added 5,857 new confirmed and probable coronavirus cases to its pandemic tally since Wednesday, bringing the total to 200,426. The state averaged 2,162 new cases a day for the seven days ending Friday.


Hollingsworth reported from Mission, Kansas.


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