Kansas City EMT Karla Wilson soothed a young, nervous boy Tuesday inside a classroom at Central High School. She assured him the COVID-19 vaccine shot wouldn’t hurt, and it would be over in a second.
Moments later, the boy was giggling and affixing his “I got my COVID shot” sticker to his T-shirt.
Wilson was assisting at one of several miniature clinics set up this week by the Kansas City Health Department—part of their new outreach plan to bolster the metro’s stubbornly low vaccine rate.
Just 36% of Kansas City residents are fully vaccinated, and with Delta variant cases proliferating across the state, local officials are looking for new ways to stay ahead of the virus.
The city closed two standing clinics last week and is repurposing another as the large-scale vaccination sites no longer keep busy enough.
“It’s at that point we’ve got to go out and find people where they are,” said Frank Thompson, deputy director of the Kansas City Health Department. “The numbers just haven’t been there for a while in terms of public walking in those facilities to receive vaccinations.”
That means creating more targeted events and opportunities. The Kansas City Health Department started that Saturday with a mobile clinic set up at City Market.
Thompson said they were pleased with the effectiveness of combing through the market, asking unvaccinated passerby to come get their shot.
They ended up corralling 50 people for either the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
The Kansas City Health Department set up a mobile COVID-19 vaccination unit at City Market on Saturday to entice people at the farmers market and area store employees to get their shot.
In addition to Central High and River Market, Health Department targeted other locations like Mattie Rhodes Center and St.Teresa’s Academy for vaccine clinics.
Wilson said these smaller clinics are proving effective for reaching unvaccinated residents.
“A lot of them like it. For the kids, anyway, it’s convenient and also for the families as well,” she said. “Parents and siblings can come get it.”
Kansas City’s vaccine efforts are lagging even behind Missouri, where 39% of residents statewide are fully vaccinated. The state of Kansas is doing slightly better at 42%.
On Friday, June 25, standing vaccination sites at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Center and the Gen-X store on Prospect were shut down. A third site operated at Smith-Hale Middle School will continue to offer back-to-school COVID vaccinations and other immunizations on Saturdays only.
The Armory in Wyandotte County will be closed after July 2, but the former Kmart in on State Avenue remains open.
In Johnson County, the mass vaccination clinic in Lenexa will close at the end of July, but health officials will continue giving vaccines at Olathe Health Services.
Dr. Sanmi Areola, director of the Department of Health and Environment in Johnson County, said that, at its peak, Lenexa’s mass clinic was vaccinating 3,000 people a day. That has since trickled to less than 400 a day.
Areola says that more pharmacies and health systems are offering the vaccine, so these larger sites are going underused.
“Now it’s kind of slowed down to a pace where it can be managed without the need for a mass vaccination clinic,” Areola said. “The goal remains to get the vaccine into the arms of as many of our residents as possible as quickly as we can.”