Kansas governor brings on advisor for COVID-19 vaccine equity

ximena garcia
Posted at 5:52 PM, Mar 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-10 18:59:01-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said the state is taking steps toward a “more equitable and efficient” COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan.

Those steps include bringing a new voice to her administration.

Wednesday, Kelly announced Dr. Ximena Garcia as her new advisor on COVID-19 vaccination equity.

Under that title, Garcia will work with representatives from underrepresented populations and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to coordinate vaccine administration in “socially-vulnerable communities,” the governor said.

Garcia, who attended medical school in Kansas and later returned to work in the state for the past 18 years, said she has always been drawn to working with underserved populations and was ready to hit the ground running in her new position.

“In Kansas, the data show we are really not where we should be in terms of vaccine equity among our populations of color,” Garcia said.

She noted that those populations are often overrepresented in front line, essential jobs and at higher risk for health factors which can worsen COVID-19.

Garcia also pointed out that rates of death from COVID-19 are higher among communities of color than the white population in Kansas.

She said she sees “excellent work” happening at local levels. She and Kelly lauded Wyandotte County’s efforts, where they toured the third vaccination clinic Tuesday.

Garcia said she believes it’s now her job to help replicate such efforts at a state level.

Kelly launched an initiative to vaccinate workers at meatpacking plants across the state last week.

The plan is an effort to get the vaccine to more people in the Hispanic and Latino communities in Kansas. Those populations make up the majority of meatpacking plant employees, Kelly said.

The state is on track to get a first dose of the vaccine to all the workers who want one by the end of next week.

Kelly said the state will also publish race and ethnic vaccine data on the KDHE dashboard in its pursuit of more equitable distribution.

KDHE Secretary Dr. Lee Norman joined Kelly and Garcia at Wednesday’s press conference to give an update on vaccine distribution.

Kansas has long faced disparities between the number of vaccines it says it’s distributed and the number the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report as administered in the state.

Norman said Wednesday the department has discovered the reason for the gap is twofold.

First, the department continues to face data interface issues, for which there is an ongoing technical fix.

Second, the state does have some vaccine inventory backlog due to extreme weather conditions in February which caused a delay in delivery of vaccine shipments.

Norman said the state then got an influx of vaccine supply as those doses began arriving.

KDHE is now deploying the National Guard to help administer the backlog of doses in mass vaccination clinics. Norman mentioned those are happening in Sedgwick County, specifically.

Kansas is currently in Phase 2 of its vaccination plan.

Kelly said she anticipates the state is close to moving on to Phase 3.