KANSAS CITY, Mo — Health experts in the Kansas City area are battling the clock, as well as the coronavirus delta variant.
Hospitals in the area are reporting higher case numbers of the delta variant among the younger population, especially those in the 20 to 35 age group.
This is why the Kansas City Health Department held a “Back to School” immunization and COVID-19 vaccination event on Saturday, at Smith-Hale Middle School.
“We gotta get serious about getting folks vaccinated here over the next few weeks,” Frank Thompson, deputy director of Kansas City Health Department said. “School starts in four weeks.”
Thompson said it’s the department’s goal to keep students in classrooms this year after missing more than a year of in-person instruction.
In order for that to happen, Thompson said getting more people vaccinated is key. With the 12 and under population not eligible for the vaccine right now, it is that much more important for staff to get the shot as well.
The health department is in a rush to vaccinate those younger than 39 years old, not only with the first day of class drawing near, but also as more younger people are testing positive for the delta variant.
“They’re seeing those individuals come in sicker than they had seen earlier on in the pandemic,” Thompson said. “Our over 65 population, we’ve gotten more than 80% of them vaccinated. They did what they needed to do to protect themselves. Now it’s time for the younger generation to follow suit.”
Thompson said there is a list of personal reasons as to why people are choosing to opt out of getting vaccinated. Some are vaccine resistant, some are taking a “wait and see” approach and others are just frightened by the misinformation online.
However, Thompson is hopeful vaccination-school immunization events like this where people can find information and convenience, will help break down some of those barriers.
“Our goal in combining both was to make this COVID vaccination as convenient as possible for those that are eligible,” Thompson said.
Michael Shaw, a father who attended Saturday’s event, appreciated the accessibility and convenience of it. He has two daughters on opposite ends of the gym.
“My daughter got the Pfizer vaccine and my other daughter got her immunizations,” Shaw said.
According to city data, only 37% of Kansas Citians are fully vaccinated, while 44% have gotten their first dose.
Thompson said while many are nervous about a new vaccine, the chances of being hospitalized is seven to eight times higher than experiencing adverse effects from the vaccine.
Additionally, KCMO has vaccinated over 180,000 people and over 160 million people have been vaccinated nationwide. Thompson said the side effects have been minimal.
“We held out for a while, because we were a little nervous,” mother Victoria Anderson said. “It was better to get it than to play Russian roulette and actually catch COVID, especially when I thought about the Delta variant and my kids ending up at the hospital. It was a no brainer.
Anderson is relieved her 12-year-old daughter, Saniya McCain, just made the cut and got her vaccine too.
“It was just, like, comforting to know that I won’t have to get anybody sick and I have less of a risk,” McCain said.
For 16-year-old Elijah Henderson, he hopes his new layer of protection will bring a sense of normalcy and allow him to return to things he loves most.
“Going to school full time, seeing all my friends that I haven’t seen in like a year and a half, sporting events with the fans,” Henderson said. “Just face to face contact with people.”
Thompson said the Food and Drug Administration will announce in two months whether or not the Pfizer vaccine has been granted full approval.
This would mean it would no longer be only for emergency use, and institutions like schools and companies will be able to legally make it mandatory.