In this June 8, 2019 file photo, Kansas City mayoral candidates Quinton Lucas, left, and Jolie Justus meet at Northland Cathedral for the fifth of six debates sponsored by The Kansas City Star
( Shelly Yang/The Kansas City Star via AP, File
Tanzina Vega: In the United States, coronavirus vaccine distribution has not gone as smoothly as many Americans may have expected. We're going to take a look at vaccine distribution through the eyes of local leaders. Today, we turn to Missouri, where about one in five people is infected with the virus, but so far, just 30% of the state's COVID-19 vaccines have made their way into people's arms. Joining me now to discuss the vaccine rollout in his city is Kansas City Mayor, Quinton Lucas. Mayor Lucas, thanks for joining us.
Quinton Lucas: It is good to be with you.
Tanzina: How would you assess the state of vaccine distribution in Kansas City, Missouri right now?
Lucas: Like most parts of the country, it is nowhere close to where it needs to be. We have received our one a distributions from the state that went directly from the State of Missouri's health department to hospitals and other outfits. We are starting to begin to vaccinate some of those frontline workers, nurses, doctors, healthcare providers, those at nursing homes. However, there are lots of people that are saying we aren't hitting all providers and we have had that challenge. Doctors that are not affiliated with the hospital, for example, aren't receiving the vaccine.
Something else is happening here that I think has happened in lots of other areas, New York state, et cetera, which is that hospitals have received more vaccine than they can use. Often, you have seen administrators getting vaccinated. People that don't work with patients. In some unfortunate situations, vaccines going to waste because we haven't lined it up the way it needs to. There is much frustration early and much more work to do.
Tanzina: Mayor Lucas, what do you need? Do you need help from the state, from the federal government? Who would you call on to help you right now to help coordinate these efforts more efficiently?
Lucas: Well, the first change that we need is from the federal government. I am heartened by at least what the incoming Biden administration is saying, which is rather than holding back some of the doses of vaccines, they will give all that they have to the states. That is a really stark difference from what the Trump administration did, which, for many months, was arguably nothing. Then once the vaccines were here, basically, handed it over to states to say, you figure it out, giving only a percentage of the supply that's necessary.
Step one is actually getting the vaccine first because that helps us plan. Step two is actually making sure that we get more vaccine to public health departments, to safety net providers, to federally qualified healthcare centers. Those are the hospitals that work with indigence, with our homeless population, with all the groups that I'm concerned, even after we've gone through lots of our vaccine distribution, we may still be missing large parts of our population.
I think it would be much better if rather than sending off a bunch of vaccines to your local pharmacy that will disproportionately get into the arms of those in the middle class, the upper-middle class, and beyond, they actually were sending these vaccines to health departments to make sure we can equitably vaccinate large swats of our population, including our Black and brown communities that have already been highly infected disproportionately and will get access to the vaccine, I fear, in a disproportionately lower capacity.
Tanzina: Mayor Lucas, given the rollout of the vaccine, as we're saying, is going to take a couple more months at least, is there any other state or federal assistance that you're asking for to help your constituents get through this current wave of the pandemic?
Lucas: In the spring, we certainly had lots of discussions about how the CARES Act and support to our health departments would help with testing contact tracing. We continue to actually have the same request for federal funding to the cities to support those two endeavors. Also, as we look to vaccines, health departments will have to do a lot of work. We'll have to organize in some situations like here in Kansas City, a convention center, larger spaces where people can wait, and with the way that the vaccine is done, you actually have to stay onsite often for 15 minutes after you've received your shot.
That's not the sort of thing that can be done in small clinical spaces. We would look to have some support from the federal government, not just on funding of that, but help in setting up those types of facilities.
Tanzina: Mayor Lucas, you received your first dose of the Moderna vaccine a week and a half ago and you did it publicly to combat some of the skepticism. What's your message to Kansas City residents who are distrustful towards the vaccine?
Lucas: I think it has surprised some because there is a percentage of my population, largely white, largely folks that may be even listening to a program like this one who say, of course, everyone's going to get the vaccine, but then when you actually talk to folks both in not just social media, which is assessable anyway, but also those even in my family who were saying, I don't trust this, I don't trust the government. They always test Black people first.
I am Black and I was thinking we have to push back and show that no, we do believe it's safe that you aren't going to be a Guinea pig in terms of taking the vaccine and more to the point that we are going to work our level best to make sure that it's available and accessible for people of all races, of all demographic groups. Throughout this crisis, there has been a bit of a messaging issue that I think we have failed to confront fully, which is that we spent so much time, I think considering left-right politics and the anti maskers and the anti-vaxxers and all of that and they do take up so much noise.
There are lots of people, particularly from poor communities that we also have needed to make sure we reach out to them. We say that it's safe, it's accessible. It will be available. We'll make sure it comes available in an equitable manner and that's why I think I've stepped up. Other Black and brown leaders I've seen my congressman's African-American, he's also gotten the vaccine. I think it will be so important for us to shell.
I joked the other day I don't have any control over someone like LeBron James, but someone like that, folks that have that type of global presence, I think can go a long way to making sure folks don't say, we're going to wait and see, because waiting and seeing can mean a lot more spread in a lot of our communities of color that are so disproportionately impacted now.
Tanzina Vega: Mayor, some of the groups that have been talked about getting the vaccine include incarcerated individuals. The State of Missouri has put that group close to the bottom of its priority to get the vaccine. What are your thoughts on that decision?
Lucas: That is absolutely shameful. There is no reason that we wouldn't take care of folks that are entrusted to the care of the people of Missouri. It's consistent with the red state politics you see in this part of the country, but it doesn't make it any less awful. Our prisoners are in close confined quarters. They do not have access to quality health care in the slightest and we want to make sure that we're stemming any outbreaks.
I'll add to that. Many of them haven't been able to see their families for visits since the beginning of the crisis. These are, in many ways, inhumane conditions. We still have an eighth amendment. We still don't want a cruel and unusual punishment. I think allowing a virus to rage because we're not taking care of the people that we're supposed to take care of is a mistake by the leadership of Missouri.
Tanzina Vega: Mayor Lucas, are you optimistic that you will be able to increase the administering this vaccine in time to really prevent and put at least some sort of a hold on the spread of the virus in your community?
Lucas: I am. I think that we will continue to reach out to every level of elected officials. We worked with the Trump administration to the extent that was possible. We're hopeful that the Biden administration will be better in the workings with cities and I think we will do all we can to keep people safe and avoid the loss of lives. This is a serious time and we need to do better.
Tanzina Vega: Mayor Quinton Lucas is the mayor of Kansas City, Missouri. Mayor Lucas, thank you so much for your time.
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