Health department distributes COVID-19 vaccine itself after not receiving approval to transfer doses to Lawrence’s hospital

photo by: Ashley Golledge

A sign points to LMH Health's new drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination center on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.

Story updated at 5:24 p.m. Monday:

Two weeks ago, some health leaders in Douglas County were disappointed by a local health center’s decision not to transfer its COVID-19 vaccine doses to Lawrence’s hospital for distribution.

Now that organization, Heartland Community Health Center, has completed its distribution of 1,000 doses of the vaccine. Meanwhile, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health, which intended to transfer its 300 doses to the hospital, has not yet received state approval for that transfer and will instead finish distributing the vaccine itself.

Local leaders had deemed LMH Health the intended distribution site for Phase 1A of the vaccination process in Douglas County. When Heartland Community Health Center declined to transfer its doses to the hospital, a local health leader called it a “wrinkle” in the vaccine distribution process.

On Saturday, Heartland finished giving out its 1,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to Phase 1A health care workers throughout the county, including LMH Health employees, Heartland CEO Robyn Coventon said. Heartland received its vaccines on Dec. 22.

George Diepenbrock, spokesperson for Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health, said the health department received its 300 doses on Dec. 21. The following day, he wrote in an email to the Journal-World that the health department was still pursuing redistribution approval from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Because the redistribution agreement had not been approved, the health department began administering some of the doses last week to public health workers in the county, Diepenbrock said.

On Monday, Diepenbrock said the health department had still not received approval and that it would continue distributing doses to EMS first responders and public health workers this week.

“As part of our planning, we have been working with the first responder agencies to schedule times for EMS workers to get vaccinated. We expect it will take about a week to get through this shipment,” he wrote in an email to the Journal-World.

When asked why KDHE had not yet granted approval, Diepenbrock said the health department had “not heard either way on the request.”

“Given the nature of the state’s process and the ways the holiday weekend could have affected timing, we are hopeful to gain approval,” Diepenbrock wrote. “In the mean time, we wanted to do what we can to distribute the vaccine to our first responders and public health workers.”

Diepenbrock said the health department expects KDHE to approve redistribution to LMH Health for future shipments of the vaccine.

LMH Health, which received 800 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 16, distributed all doses by Dec. 19.

In its update on Monday, the hospital noted that 1,192 of its employees were still awaiting vaccinations. Of those employees, more than 50 were in direct contact with COVID-19 patients in the hospital and more than 100 worked in clinics where exposure was likely, the update read. The hospital is anticipating receiving a second dose of vaccines this week.

New COVID-19 death in Douglas County

One more Douglas County resident has died from COVID-19, according to the health department’s update on Monday.

The new death, which brings the total to 32, was a woman in the 65 to 74 age range who had been hospitalized at the time of death, Diepenbrock said.

Previously, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health announced that 31 people — one resident between the ages of 45 and 54, eight residents between the ages of 65 and 74, eight residents between the ages of 75 and 84 and 14 residents age 85 or older — had died from COVID-19 or with the virus as a contributing factor in their deaths.

Douglas County reported 6,292 cases of COVID-19 as of Monday, an increase of 146 cases since Thursday.

In Douglas County, 5,658 out of the 6,292 cases are inactive or beyond the infectious period, according to Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health, meaning 634 cases are active.

The county has averaged about 40 new cases per day over the last 14 days, according to a 14-day moving average graph updated weekdays by the health department. The current average of 40.43 new cases per day is down from a recent high of 77 cases per day in mid-November and up from a recent low of 17 cases per day in mid-October.

Douglas County has a 14-day COVID-19 incidence rate of 470.53 per 100,000 people.

Twenty-six patients at Lawrence’s hospital had COVID-19 on Monday, five more than Thursday.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s online map noted that 49,110 Douglas County residents had been tested for the disease so far. The county’s testing rate per 1,000 people was 401.7.

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