TOPEKA, Kan. — If people can't leave their homes for a COVID-19 vaccination, public health officials in the Kansas City area can send someone out. One Kansas community in the area is signing up churches, businesses and apartment complexes for group shots and going to them.
Health departments in Johnson and Wyandotte counties have done home inoculation visits for months, and Wyandotte County recently added a team to help businesses or organizations wanting shots for employees or members.
The state has seven trailers allowing it to set up clinics at remote sites, including NASCAR's Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kansas, and Melvern Lake, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) south of Topeka later this week. Geary County's health department brings vaccinations to employers, and Sedgwick County, home to Wichita, the state's largest city, has 17 mobile clinics scheduled this month, including nine at churches and three at its zoo.
With demand for inoculations having waned, Gov. Laura Kelly earlier announced that Kansas was changing its strategy for reaching herd immunity, away from mass clinics and toward having individual health care providers give shots. But some counties in Kansas see a need to do more.
"This is kind of a joke, but why not put it on an ice cream truck, and when the guy is coming down the neighborhood with his ice cream truck with his bells and his music blaring, also, you know, offer vaccination at that point?" said Dr. Dana Hawkinson, director of infection control for the University of Kansas Health System.
Vaccinations in Kansas slowed significantly this month, according to state Department of Health and Environment data. An average of 9,593 shots a day were administered in May through Friday, while the average for April was 22,655.
The state is ordering only a fraction of its allocation of vaccine doses from the federal government, 9,090 of 147,600 available last week, or 6.2%. More than 578,000 doses were unused as of Friday.
The state health department has said reaching herd immunity requires 75% to 80% of the population to have COVID-19 antibodies, either from vaccinations or previous infections. As of Friday, the state reported that 41.9% of its 2.9 million residents had received at least one vaccine shot. Reported COVID-19 cases equaled 10.8% of the population.
"We have done mass vaccinations, and we just don't have the people showing up," said Tammy Von Busch, director of the Geary County Health Department. "We still had people - even though they had an appointment, knew what time and where, the whole nine yards - they still didn't show up."
Von Busch said that if businesses ask for help with vaccinations, "We're just packing all of our supplies and going."
In Wyandotte County, a health department team has been making home vaccination visits since February, usually once a week, and it has given about 100 shots, department spokeswoman Janell Friesen said. In early May, it began taking requests from businesses, churches and other organizations for group vaccinations.
"We are putting more of our time and our resources into being able to go out into the community to sites where people are already at and providing vaccines there," Friesen said. "The people who were most eager to get vaccinated, who wanted to be first in line, for the most part have gotten their vaccines."
In Douglas County, the home to Lawrence and the University of Kansas, the health department purchased with $450,000 in federal coronavirus relief funds. It is due to arrive this month.
In neighboring Johnson County, the state's most populous county, the health department has had two teams going to homes, and Director Sanmi Areola said they've administered more than 200 vaccines.
Areola said his department is working with local farmers' markets and food pantries and hopes to administer shots at up to 10 churches the last weekend in June in a "Love Thy Neighbor" effort. His staff is reaching out to restaurants and bars, he said.
"We just need to keep vaccinating," Areola said. "There will be a percentage of our population that are not going to be vaccinated. Population immunity is a way to indirectly protect those, so it is a collective responsibility."