In Depth: What the mayor's vaccine task force is working on

KCMO Health Department
Posted at 6:17 PM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-18 19:17:53-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Earlier this month, Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas announced appointments to a new task force to coordinate vaccine rollout in the city.

The idea was to make it easier for people to figure out when and where they would be able to get the vaccine, and to make sure at-risk populations had access.

"We want to be able to come back to you in the weeks ahead and say this is where vaccinations can be done, this is who you call," Lucas said at a news conference on Feb. 3.

Two weeks later, the 41 Action News Investigative Team reached back out to learn what the task force has discussed in its first couple meetings.

The group includes leaders from major health systems including Truman Medical Centers and Swope Health Services, as well as an engineer from Burns & McDonnell to handle logistics.

Dr. Rex Archer of the KCMO Health Department is also on the task force. He shed light on the work underway.

Dr. Rex Archer Zoom
Dr. Archer spoke to the I-Team's Cat Reid about the vaccine task force.

"Pulling minds together and working as a team can almost always improve your processes," Archer said. "Sometimes teamwork takes a little while if you haven't really worked with those individuals before, but pretty soon it starts to pick up."

Archer explained that just having these leaders sitting around the same table is already helping with vaccine rollout, because there is greater communication between agencies.

"If somebody's running short and somebody else has vaccine, we can move that seamlessly behind the scenes," he said.

The task force is developing both short and long-term goals, with a big focus on improving the vaccination rate in communities at higher risk of serious complications from COVID-19.

Data from the city shows 145 Latinx residents per 100,000 have died from COVID. The rate for white Kansas Citians, meanwhile, is 50 per 100,000.

To fix this in the short-term, the health department is sharing its COVID-19 and vaccination data with task force members to help them identify which populations have the greatest need.

In addition, Archer said the health department has shared strategies to reach communities of color and to combat vaccine hesitancy.

"The outreach into disadvantaged and marginalized communities is really a public health expertise more than most hospitals, so we're sharing some of that," he said.

In the long-term, the task force is looking at sites for vaccination clinics that could be run by Spanish-speaking staff and volunteers.

Another goal that will take time is the streamlining of appointment scheduling and waiting lists.

During the press conference announcing the task force, Lucas talked about the stories he had heard of people filling out multiple forms online or calling around to "18 different places" to find a vaccine.

"In essence, I think we've failed people so far in our messaging on that," he said at the time.

Thursday, Archer acknowledged creating a "one-stop shop" for the entire metropolitan area would be "difficult," especially since the vaccine tiers are different in Kansas and Missouri.

However, the task force is looking at ways to simplify the process, as well as ways to help more people without internet access schedule their appointments.

For example, KCMO residents can call 311 to be connected with a health department representative who will manually enter information into the system.

"It's pretty labor intensive on our side, but it's the best way to help those folks who don't have the same connections or resources to be able to go online," Archer said.

The 41 Action News I-Team will continue to follow the work of the task force as new developments arise.