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Pharmacies in Kansas are now administering the COVID-19 vaccine — but doses are limited

Andrew Bahl
Topeka Capital-Journal
The COVID-19 vaccine is set to be administered at pharmacies across the state, including some Dillons and Walmart locations.

Pharmacies across the state, including some Dillons and Walmart locations, are set to begin distributing the COVID-19 vaccine as part of a federal partnership, although state health officials say they will start off with a modest number of doses.

Lee Norman, secretary of health and environment, said Friday on a conference call that the federal government is purposefully sending out a limited number of doses to the pharmacies in an effort to test drive the program. That means some locations will only get 100 doses for the first week.

Twenty-two Dillons locations across the state started administering the vaccine Thursday for health care workers and those ages 65 and older, although appointments are in high demand. 

Residents can also make appointments at Walmart and Sam's Club locations in El Dorado, Hays, Leavenworth, Pittsburg and Topeka, among other locations. They will begin administering the vaccine Friday, the company said.

Smaller communities will still be able to access the vaccine through their local pharmacy, Norman said. The federal government announced partnerships with two networks of independent providers, which include Kansas.

"We recognize that every county and every community doesn’t have one of those chain pharmacies," Norman said.

Doses distributed to the pharmacies won't come out of the vaccine allotment doled out by the federal government each week. Next week, Gov. Laura Kelly said, the state would be in line to get 90,000 doses, more than it has been receiving in recent weeks.

Based on data reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kansas is 48th in per capita vaccine administration, though the Kelly administration still attributes this to technical issues with data being entered in state and federal registries.

CDC data Friday showed 30,000 fewer doses administered than what is being reported by KDHE. State figures show that 365,150 doses have been given out.

Norman said earlier this week that there were as many as 100,000 doses that had been administered but not recorded in state and federal databases, with KDHE reaching out to distribution sites to confirm they are actually getting into arms.

The data entry problem, Norman acknowledged, was worse in Kansas than in other states.

“These interfaces between these IT systems is where the problem’s occurring,” he told reporters Wednesday, but added "we can give really good assurances that the vaccines are getting into people."

Kelly said Friday that a temporary fix is coming soon to smooth over the data entry problem and that KDHE was in communication with the contractors who support the state's vaccine registry, WebIZ.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 case counts across the state continued to drop, with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment reporting a rise of 1,208 cases since Wednesday. The state also saw an increase of 61 deaths and 47 new hospitalizations in that time period.

Norman said that capacity issues are easing at all but the smallest hospitals in the state. Forty-six percent of inpatient beds and 34% of intensive care beds are free statewide, according to data reported by the Kansas Hospital Association. Statewide there are 411 hospitalizations due to COVID-19.

"The numbers are really good," said Dana Hawkinson, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Kansas Health System. "I think we've been happy now for the last 10 days or so."