Sedgwick County ready for Phase 5 vaccinations, waiting on state approval

Published: Mar. 23, 2021 at 5:25 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Sedgwick County leaders are now asking the Kansas Department of Health Environment (KDHE) to move to Phase 5 of the state’s vaccination plan as early as this week. The next phase would allow any Kansans over the age of 16 to be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

The county says it cannot move forward into Phase 5 until the state makes the call first, but county leaders are now applying some pressure because of low vaccination rates.

Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell contacted the governor’s office Tuesday asking the state to move into Phase 5 now.

“I will contact the governor’s office and tell them Phase 5 this week,” said Howell during Tuesday’s county workshop. “If we don’t do it right now. It’s reckless. It’s causing harm to our people.”

Based on the number of open appointments through Sedgwick County’s vaccination clinics, county leaders feel it is time to expand eligibility to all Sedgwick County residents over 16 years old. But, KDHE isn’t expected to move into phase five until May. That is also when President Joe Biden asked all states to open up vaccine eligibility to all adults.

“Phases 1-4 are open in Sedgwick County and we have an enormous number of open appointments right now and the rest of this week. There will be even more open appointments next week. I cannot imagine waiting another 4-5 weeks to get to Phase 5. That’s in my opinion reckless policy. We are hurting the people in Sedgwick County. We are holding back people who want the vaccine,” said Howell.

The request comes as Gov. Kelly is expected to sign a bill into law this week that would immediately end all health orders across the state. Without a mask order in place, Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple and county leaders are asking for Phase 5 so vaccines can get into more arms fast.

“We shouldn’t say, ‘we can no longer do masks if that doesn’t pass’ and also say ‘not everyone has the option to get vaccinated.’ That’s not right. I think we need to get approval to open up immediately to anyone who wants one,” said Sedgwick County Commissioner Sarah Lopez.

The Sedgwick County Commission will meet Wednesday to talk about the current health order. Commissioner Howell said he will propose ending the health order. We don’t know how the other commissioners will vote, but all health orders are expected to end this week.

Governor Kelly said open appointments are the reason the state moved into Phases 3 and 4 early, and if that continues, she’ll consider the move into Phase 5 early as well.

“If we go another couple of weeks and (vaccine appointments aren’t) filling up, we’ll take a look at the rest of the state and we’ll make a decision about going into Phase 5,” Kelly said.

She said over the next week or two, the state will put its efforts toward making sure people who are eligible know they can get vaccinated, as well as people who may still be hesitant.

‘We’re really looking at how to reassure folks who my be hesitant, that they should get this vaccine,” Kelly said.

Before the next potential move, Kelly also said she wants to make sure the state’s vaccine supply from the federal government increases over the next couple of weeks.

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