Why state level vaccine data may not tell the whole story in border communities

A Medical Professional Prepares A Covid 19 Vaccine

CHEROKEE/CRAWFORD COUNTY, Kan. – As southeast Kansas faces the threat of the highly contagious Delta variant, the Cherokee County Health Department works to get more residents vaccinated.

“Especially because we know that it’s not just isolated to our county or a couple of counties. It’s a regional thing. And in our area, the hospitals are regional as well,” says Cherokee County Health Department Public Information Officer David Groves.

Hospitals in the region like Ascension Via Christi in Pittsburg are seeing more, and younger, patients because of the Delta variant. And with cases starting to spike in the region, local officials work hard to break through vaccine hesitancy to increase the population of those vaccinated.

“I urge you to reconsider and become vaccinated,” says Crawford County Health Department Director Teddi VanKam.

But when it comes to Cherokee and Crawford County’s vaccination rates — state numbers may not tell the whole story.

“Vaccinations that are administered out of state do not get reported back to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment,” explains Groves. “We have a lot of residents who either work in Missouri, or they have their medical provider that’s in Missouri, and they’re getting the vaccine there. So, when you look at the vaccination rate, it’s low compared to what the actual number really is.”

KDHE does point this out on their website, saying:

“County vaccination rates are calculated based on vaccine recipient county of residence. KDHE is currently only able to report on doses given in Kansas and reported into the Kansas Immunization Registry (KS-WeIZ). Kansas residents that have been vaccinated in surrounding states or through federal agencies are not currently included in this data. Vaccination rates for counties boarding other states or with close ties with federal agencies may have higher vaccination rates than reported using KS WebIZ.”

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services says much the same.

“Vaccines administered out-of-state to Missouri residents are… not reported.”

“It does affect the numbers, but I don’t think it affects them that negatively,” says VanKam. “It would be helpful if there was a nationally based system… because you could look up anyone to be able to give them (the person who was vaccinated) that information.”

But, she explains that the discrepancy doesn’t impact their daily work because they have pretty easy ways around it.

“We can call that health department and be able to share that information so that the patient or client can get that information. Cause that’s usually what the issue is is they need the information because they may be planning something and need to prove that they were vaccinated,” says VanKam.

“We do ask anybody who’s been vaccinated in another state that lives here, please notify the local health department and show them your card so that we can get those,” says Jamie Cravens, Infection Control Coordinator at Ascension Via Christi Hospital. “I would say that numbers relatively low, as far as that crossover, but I’m sure that does happen.”