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In Kentucky, slowed pace of vaccinations delays end of health orders

“We’re getting real close Kentucky... Let’s keep pushing.”
Updated: May. 3, 2021 at 3:42 PM EDT
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FRANKFORT, Ky. (FOX19) - Kentucky could be further from its 2.5 million vaccination goal now than projections indicated when the goal was set in early April thanks to vaccine hesitancy and slowed vaccination rates.

Gov. Andy Beshear acknowledged on Monday the state is no longer distributing its maximum vaccine allotment from the federal government because so many appointments are going unfilled.

He said last week Kentucky’s mass vaccination sites weren’t administering 40 percent of the vaccine doses they had been just a month prior, and the state hasn’t hit its goal of getting out 90 percent of the weekly vaccine doses it receives since early March.

Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack on Monday put Kentucky’s current glut of vaccine doses at 900,000.

The slow-down comes as statewide indicators on cases, testing positivity rates and hospitalizations point to a tenuous plateau of COVID-19 in Kentucky.

At the same time, data show infection rates are now 67 percent higher among those aged 0-49 compare to those aged 50+, reflecting both the effectiveness of the vaccines and the continued threat of the virus and its variants to those who haven’t gotten a dose.

“We need you to get vaccinated,” Beshear said. “Especially if you are in your 20s and 30s, we really need you to get vaccinated.”

Kentucky is at least five weeks — likely more — from achieving the goal of 2.5 million vaccinations, after which Beshear has said he will lift most capacity restrictions at businesses statewide.

Currently around 1,848,275 Kentuckians have gotten at least one vaccine dose, according Beshear, leaving a gap of 651,725 vaccinations as of Monday.

When Beshear announced the vaccination goal on April 12, the state had vaccinated 1,556,419 Kentuckians. At the time, he offered a conservative estimate for when Kentucky could pass the goal of late May. Now even that appears unlikely.

Kentucky added 108,777 vaccinations the week beginning April 12, then 61,150 and 121,929 vaccinations over the past two weeks. Assuming the state averages 120,000 weekly vaccinations, it won’t hit the 2.5 million vaccination goal until at least June 10.

But that assumption might not be realistic either. Last week’s spike in vaccinations could be due in part to a change in how the state reports vaccinations.

Beshear announced on Monday Kentucky had shifted to the CDC reporting system, which he said provides more robust and consistent data than Kentucky’s old system. The change comes after several weeks of the governor claiming the old system was underreporting vaccinations, possibly leading to an artificial trough-and-crest, where the real weekly figure is somewhere between the two.

The upshot is Kentucky might have its capacity restrictions in place past the middle of June.

That’s not to say other restrictions won’t be loosened gradually. Beshear’s done just that over the last few weeks, announcing changes to the mask order and loosened restrictions at stadiums and arenas. He said he could pursue similarly gradual moves before the vaccination goal is hit.

Beshear also hinted on Monday that public and private incentives for Kentuckians to get vaccinated could be announced later this week.

More, the state is faring better in its vaccine rollout than all its neighbors to the south (the CDC’s regional comparison tool places Kentucky among a southern block of states.)

“We’re outperforming every state south of us, from Texas to Florida,” said Stack. “And, we are still outperforming five of our seven border states.”

But the lion’s share of Kentucky’s capacity restrictions still appear to hinge on the vaccination goal.

“We’re getting real close Kentucky,” Beshear said. “Let’s keep pushing.”

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