A COVID-19 vaccine will be distributed to critical health care workers first, then the elderly who are most at risk, before being made available to the general public, City-Cowley County Health Officer Tom Langer said Tuesday regarding the county’s plans for when a vaccine becomes available.
Although a firm time frame for availability hasn’t been established yet, Langer said it could be available in the county as soon as next month.
The county’s rollout plan for a vaccine will be performed in conjunction with federal and state guidelines, Langer said. Once a vaccine is available, it will be released locally though a tiered plan.
Phase one will make the vaccine available for critical health care workers who deal closely with the public, as well as long term care workers.
In the second phase, vaccines will be prioritized for people age 65 and older with co-morbidities that put their health at greater risk if they catch the virus. Vaccines for people age 65 and older at less risk will be introduced via sub-phases.
Langer said that, during the first two phases, the vaccine will be available through the health department or partner organizations, such as the county’s hospitals and medical offices.
Phase three will make the vaccine available to more of the general public, and also make it available at pharmacies and other places besides a doctor’s office or the health department. During this phase, vaccination will begin with older adults and continue down to younger people. Langer said the plan is to have it available for children by the time back to school preparations begin in summer 2021. There is also a chance health workers could go out to some of the larger employers in the county and offer vaccines on site.
Langer said he would like to see upward of 75 percent of the county’s population receive the vaccine. In a county where around 13,000 to 15,000 people, or about one third of the population, gets the flu vaccine in a normal year, “this is a very ambitious goal,” he said.
Langer acknowledged that vaccine hesitancy from the public could impact this goal. A survey is available for people to fill out at www.surveymonkey.com/r/SCKCOVID19 to help gauge people’s attitudes toward a vaccine and how many are likely to get one. Responses will help determine how many doses of the vaccine the county will have to request, Langer said. A public information campaign will also be rolled out when the vaccine is closer to being released to inform people about it.
Langer said some people will want to get the vaccine right away, while some will want to wait.
“Our job is to be honest and tell people about the risks and benefits,” he said.
Langer said he is willing to set the example and receive the first vaccine distributed in Cowley County.
“If it was here today, I would roll up my sleeve and take the shot right now,” he said.
Similar to the county-wide mask wearing campaign, which encourages but does not mandate usage of face coverings to help stop the disease from spreading, Langer said the ultimate responsibility for lessening the pandemic lies with the public.
“We have to rely on the people to see how virulent this is,” he said. “I hope people won’t wait until it affects their families to take the appropriate steps.”
As of Nov. 30, there have been 1,631 cases in the county, with 17 cumulative hospitalizations, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Langer said that, as of Tuesday, there have been around 25 deaths in the county.
“This virus is never going away,” Langer said. “We have to develop immunities it it, where it is rendered harmless to us. This is what’s behind the vaccine campaign.”