TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly plans to get a COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday as part of a larger program to give shots to selected Kansas officials so that state government can continue to operate during the pandemic.
The governor confirmed her plans Monday as nursing home workers and residents began receiving vaccinations, after health care workers started getting them earlier this month. A spokesman for CVS said the pharmacy company on Monday launched its efforts to provide shots in on-site clinics at more than 360 long-term care and skilled nursing homes.
The state’s vaccine distribution plan calls for providing shots first to front-line health care workers, nursing home workers and nursing home residents. But the Democratic governor disclosed during an Associated Press intervie w last week that Kansas also was looking at giving shots to people in state agencies, the Republican-controlled Legislature and the state court system to preserve “continuity of operations” in state government.
Kelly said a list of officials due for the shots starting Wednesday has been developed, though her office did not immediately release it. Kelly’s staff has repeatedly said that she will get vaccinated when it was “her turn.”
“That would be my turn,” she said during an impromptu interview following a Statehouse ceremony marking the weeklong Kwanzaa celebration of African-American heritage. “I will get vaccinated on Wednesday.”
Kelly’s staff also has said she would get the first of two doses of a coronavirus vaccine in a public event. She said Monday that it would happen during a news conference.
“You can have the thrill of your life,” she said, chuckling.
But Kelly could face some criticism for getting vaccinated relatively early and allowing shots now for some state officials.
“Now, I guess because she’s governor, she steps ahead of all those people who really need it the worst,” said House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican. “That’s a shame.”
Kelly’s husband, first gentleman and Dr. Ted Daughety, received the first of two coronavirus vaccine shots last week. He is a pulmonologist and sleep disorder specialist who came out of retirement earlier this month help screen patients at a clinic awaiting surgery for COVID-19 and other diseases.
Members of Congress also have been vaccinated, including retiring Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts. The governor’s Facebook page last week posted a short video of the 84-year-old Republican senator getting the first of two shots, wearing a cowboy hat and a shirt with a Kansas State University logo.
In the video, Roberts says Kelly wanted him to talk about the vaccine as he got his shot, adding, “She’s pretty tough.” He says he finds wearing a mask a “chore” because his glasses fog up but says getting the vaccine will help the state overcome COVID-19.
After he gets his shot Roberts says: “It didn’t hurt a bit, folks. Get your vaccine.”
Kelly said earlier this month that state lawmakers wouldn’t get special treatment that would allow them to get their vaccines ahead of people of similar ages or in similar medical conditions. Top Republican lawmakers said that was the appropriate policy, with Hawkins saying, “I’m not better than anybody else.”
Hawkins repeated that sentiment Monday and said he doesn’t expect to get vaccinated until March or April.
Meanwhile, CVS said it expects to vaccinate nearly 40,000 of the state’s most vulnerable patients over the next 12 weeks. Like other states, Kansas is working with pharmacy companies CVS and Walgreens to get vaccines administered at nursing homes.
In central Kansas, staff and residents at McPherson Health and Rehab were vaccinated Monday, according to administrator Shelby Kendrick.
The state health department said the home had 17 cases from Dec. 9 to Dec. 23, but Kendrick said it expects all infected staff and patients to complete quarantines by Wednesday. She said she thinks the vaccine shows residents that “the light at the end of the tunnel is coming.”
“We are very excited to be one of the first providers in health care to assist residents in being able to see their family members again,” Kendrick said.
Kansas has reported more than 216,000 confirmed and probable coronavirus cases since the pandemic reached the state in early March, or one case for every 13 of its 2.9 million residents. The state added 6,373 cases to its pandemic total since Wednesday, and it averaged 1,637 new cases a day for the seven days ending Monday, though that period includes Christmas.
The state also added 41 additional COVID-19 deaths to its tally since Wednesday to bring the total to 2,548, or one death for every 1,143 residents.