Most Kansas counties turn down vaccine over past month

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — About three-quarters of Kansas counties have turned down new shipments of the coronavirus vaccine at least once over the past month and several for four straight weeks, state date shows.

“It is kind of stalling. Some people just don’t want it,” said Stacey Hileman, a nurse with the health department in rural northwest Kansas’ Decatur County, where only about 29% of the county’s 2,900 residents have received at least one vaccine dose.

Her county is among six that have rejected allocations for all four weeks. Thirty-three other counties paused shipments from the state for one week, 26 for two weeks and 16 for three weeks. Only 24 counties, mostly the larger ones such as Shawnee, Johnson and Sedgwick, haven’t turned down any shipments.

These numbers, however, do not include doses that have been supplied by federal programs to pharmacies and other providers

In rural south-central Kansas’ Barber County, which has turned down vaccine doses from the state for two of the past four weeks, Danielle Farr said she has no plans to be vaccinated. The 32-year-old said she got COVID-19 last year, along with her 5- and 12-year-old sons and her husband, a sheriff’s deputy. They never were tested for active infections, but blood tests detected antibodies for the virus in all four of them.

“I believe in vaccines that have eradicated terrible diseases for the past 60, 70 years. I totally and fully believe in that,” said Farr, who works at an accounting firm. “Now a vaccine that was rushed in six, seven months, I’m just going to be a little bit more cautious about what I choose to put into my body.”

That kind of resistance is concerning health care officials, who insist the vaccines in use are safe, because just 37% of the state’s residents are at least partially vaccinated. The percentage is far from where the state needs to get to reach a level of herd immunity that would make it difficult for the virus to spread.

“We need to twist some arms and get some arms to be able to give some of that vaccine,” said Dr. Steve Stites, the chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System, during a morning briefing Wednesday.

Marci Nielsen, a special advisor to Gov. Laura Kelly, said the state is planning to target “robust communications” at communities with lower rates to reach its goals. She noted that there was no time to spare in a written statement.

“Variants continue to be a concern and the slowing of vaccine uptake will delay the ability to reach herd immunity in Kansas, and across the nation,” she said.

But the effort is far from easy. Cheyenne County, which has about 2,800 residents and is located along the state’s western border with Colorado, also has turned down new doses for four weeks.

“You are not going to force people. We’ve got it out there. If they want it they can get on the list, and we will give it to them,” said Shawna Blanka, the spokeswoman for the 16-bed Cheyenne County Hospital, before reiterating: “It is not something you can force upon people.”