KANSAS CITY, MO – Earlier this month, Kansas City, Missouri Mayor Quinton Lucas announced the appointment of a new task force to coordinate the introduction of vaccines in the city.
The idea was to make it easier for people to find out when and where to get the vaccine and to ensure that vulnerable populations have access.
“We’d like to come back to you in the coming weeks and be able to say they can get vaccinations here. This is who you’re calling,” Lucas said at a press conference on February 3rd.
Two weeks later, the 41 Action News Investigative Team reached out to him again to see what the task force had discussed in their first few meetings.
The group includes executives from major health systems such as Truman Medical Centers and Swope Health Services, and a logistics engineer from Burns & McDonnell.
Dr. Rex Archer from the KCMO Health Department is also on the task force. He highlighted the ongoing work.
Dr. Archer spoke to Cat Reid of Team I about the Vaccine Task Force.
“When you bring your thoughts together and work as a team, you can almost always improve your processes,” said Archer. “Sometimes teamwork takes a while if you haven’t really worked with these people before, but it starts to build up pretty soon.”
Archer explained that when vaccines are introduced, it is helpful to have these executives at the same table, as communication between authorities is better.
“When someone is running out and someone else is vaccinated, we can seamlessly bring that behind the scenes,” he said.
The task force is developing both short-term and long-term goals, with an emphasis on improving vaccination rates in communities that are at greater risk of serious complications from COVID-19.
Data from the city shows that 145 Latinx residents per 100,000 have died from COVID. The rate for white Kansas Citians is now 50 per 100,000.
To fix this in the short term, the health department is sharing its COVID-19 and vaccination data with members of the task force to find out which populations have the greatest need.
In addition, Archer said the health department shared strategies to reach color communities and combat vaccine reluctance.
“Contact with disadvantaged and marginalized communities is more public health expertise than most hospitals, so we share a part of it,” he said.
In the long term, the task force is looking for locations for vaccination clinics that could be run by Spanish-speaking staff and volunteers.
Another goal that will take some time is to streamline scheduling and waiting lists.
During the press conference announcing the task force, Lucas shared the stories he’d heard from people filling out multiple forms online or calling “18 different places” to find a vaccine.
“Basically, I think we have failed in our news about it so far,” he said at the time.
On Thursday, Archer admitted that creating a “one-stop shop” for the entire metropolitan area would be “difficult”, especially since vaccination levels are different in Kansas and Missouri.
However, the task force is looking for ways to simplify the process, as well as ways to help more people without internet access plan their appointments.
For example, KCMO residents can call 311 to be connected to a health department representative who will manually enter information into the system.
“It’s pretty labor-intensive on our side, but it’s the best way to help people who don’t have the same connections or resources to get online,” said Archer.
The 41 Action News I team will continue to follow the task force’s work as new developments emerge.