As of Monday, Kansas has embarked on a significant upgrade in vaccination eligibility, which means an additional 600,000 residents will be eligible for the vaccinations under the plan that Governor Laura Kelly unveiled last week.
Individuals aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions can be shot dead in many counties after the state enters a combined Phase 3 and Phase 4 of the state vaccination schedule, which also involves more workers in key areas.
Here’s what you need to know to get a Phase 3 and Phase 4 vaccine.
Who is eligible in phase 3 and phase 4?
The diseases approved in phase 3 include cancer, Down’s syndrome, serious heart disease, type 2 diabetes and pregnancy.
Diseases with a slightly lower risk fall into phase 4. These include asthma, cystic fibrosis, liver disease, type 1 diabetes, dementia, and obesity.
More:Around 600,000 Kansans are expected to qualify for the COVID-19 vaccine to significantly expand eligibility
A KDHE spokesperson did not explicitly respond to a request for comment on the definition of obesity and instead referred to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC defines obesity as a body mass index of 30 or more. According to a report by the United Health Foundation, 35% of Kansans would be classified as obese in 2019.
Other eligible persons in Phase 4 are workers in specific sectors, including agriculture, utilities, government and social services, transportation and information technology.
Not all counties treat eligibility the same way. Some open the floodgates and allow individuals in all categories to seek a shot. Others start with people with pre-existing health conditions.
Other, more rural districts are not pushing for more doses at all, said KDHE secretary Lee Norman, because they were ahead of the game in vaccinating their populations.
More:CDC: Kansas is now 38th in the nation for the most COVID-19 vaccine doses given per capita
Even in more populous areas, the capacity to meet demand has increased. Norman noted that vaccine appointments for a given county could be full in 12 hours, whereas previously it was just an hour.
“We hope the vaccination sites don’t become excessively flooded,” he said during a virtual press conference hosted by the University of Kansas Health System.
Do I need a doctor’s letter to prove my eligibility?
It was initially unclear whether individuals would have to provide evidence of their complaints in order to receive the shot, and some still fear line jumpers might come to mind. But the Kansas Department of Health and Environment confirmed Monday that it would not, as the state is relying on the “honor system” instead.
Many counties had already indicated that they would not need any documentation from the residents. Dennis Kriesel, executive director of the Kansas Association of Local Health Departments, noted that the state with vaccinations is in a very different place than it was in December when only health professionals and nursing home residents received the shots.
“It’s getting less and less important,” he said.
In combining Phase 3 and Phase 4, Norman acknowledged that there is no “light line” between the most serious diseases like cancer and other diseases like diabetes.
What does moving mean for Kansans with disabilities?
Moving to Phase 3 and Phase 4 means more Kansans with disabilities will have access to the vaccine. This will require a concerted effort to remove potential barriers, proponents say.
Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Kansas Disability Rights Center, said the move would be a boon for Kansans with disabilities, many of whom are now eligible under enlargement.
The requirement that residents receive a doctor’s letter would have added another layer to a process that is often complicated for people with disabilities.
“You won’t be vaccinated for months,” said Nichols. “It’s not good for them or for society.”
There are other obstacles – often unintentional – Nichols points out to the size of the mass vaccination site at the Stormont Vail Events Center in Topeka, which is “three soccer fields long” and can be difficult to navigate for those with mobility issues.
More mobile vaccination points and even drive-through and in-home options would be a key option, he stressed.
“Keeping accessibility and disability a priority while everyone thinks about how we’re going to do it.” is important, “said Nichols.
What do we do now?
Kriesel noted that this week would serve as a “dry run” for the extension of eligibility. That’s because the state is expected to receive a shipment of 100,000 Johnson & Johnson doses next week, which state health officials believe will help fuel the vaccination effort.
More:The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is coming to Kansas. Here’s what you need to know.
Kriesel said the rapid surge could prove difficult, especially for smaller suppliers, but the state has been working to find the most efficient way to get cans where they are needed.
“We’ll see if that breaks people,” Kriesel said of the Johnson & Johnson delivery.
Norman said the state has not been betting on a similar increase in Johnson & Johnson doses in the coming weeks. Even if more and more shots are received, the vaccination centers will still have to come on board, he said.
National Guard forces continued to help distribute vaccines in Sedgwick County, and Norman said KDHE is bringing about two dozen contract nurses on board to help at mass vaccination sites.
More:Have you already received the COVID-19 vaccine? Here’s what Kansas officials say you can do
Even so, he said there was hope of going through phase 3 and phase 4 in the “next few weeks” and possibly opening the door to an even more dramatic expansion.
“By April, or even May, I wouldn’t be surprised if we opened it to anyone willing to receive the vaccine,” Norman said.
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