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Vaccination rates in Sedgwick County still lagging behind the US

Fernando Salazar
Wichita Journalism Collaborative
Sedgwick County has seen an increase in Covid-19 testing over the last few weeks.

County health officials say many residents still are skeptical of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Sedgwick County’s vaccination rates are lagging behind the United States, county health officials said Wednesday.

About 53% of county residents 5 and older are fully vaccinated, meaning they have received one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine. The CDC reports that rate is about 66% for the whole country.

The national rate of residents with booster shots is more than double that of the county: 34% to 17%.

County Health Officer Dr. Garold Minns said the county can’t seem to reach some residents who are still skeptical of the vaccine – which health experts agree is a safe and effective way to lower a person’s chances of hospitalization or death after contracting COVID-19.

“Our vaccination rate has been pretty static,” he said. “We’re just very frustrated about why so many people are just absolutely unwilling to get it.”

The Sedgwick County Health Department’s testing site, 4115 E. Harry, saw more than twice its normal traffic through Christmas and New Year’s.

The site administered about 130 tests per day in early December. In the week before Christmas, that number jumped to 342. The site remained at 300 tests per day in the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

Deputy County Manager Tim Kaufman said the site has also been hit by staffing shortages due to increased community spread.

“We’re affected by isolation and quarantine rules for our staff as well,” he said. “We’re dealing with the same thing that every other health care provider in the community is.”

The state funds testing sites at the former Chester Lewis Learning Center, 1847 N. Chautauqua, and at Wichita State University’s Molecular Diagnostics Lab, 4174 S. Oliver. The WSU lab will halt on-site testing Thursday because of expected cold weather.

As hospitals struggle with bed capacity and staff shortages, the county is encouraging residents not to go to hospital emergency rooms for testing. Kaufman said residents should visit www.knowbeforeyougoKS.com to explore free testing options.

Sedgwick County’s positive test rate has surged from 8.5 percent to 16.1 percent in the last two weeks, the highest figure since November 2020.

Daniel Caudill is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. He was a reporter, photographer and digital content manager for The Derby Informer and an editor and reporter for The Sunflower. In the spring of 2020, Daniel helped cover the legislative session in Topeka as an intern for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @CaudillKMUW.