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Topeka and Shawnee County leaders encouraged COVID-19 vaccinations. Did they get the shot?



TOPEKA, Kan. – Cases of COVID-19 are low in Shawnee County in part to vaccinations, with local elected officials repeatedly urging residents to get vaccinated.

So The Topeka Capital-Journal asked if they’re following their own advice. The Capital-Journal reached out to the three Shawnee County commissioners, the nine members of Topeka City Council and the mayor to ask two questions:

• Are you vaccinated?

• Why or why not?

As of Wednesday, 65,512 Shawnee County residents “completed the vaccine series,” according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s website.

Council member Spencer Duncan said he is vaccinated.

“I am unapologetically vaccinated and unapologetically (going to) tell everyone to get your darn vaccine,” said Duncan said at Tuesday’s city council meeting. “I understand there are issues and concerns, but get it.

“Hundreds of millions of people across the world have taken it, and they are doing just fine.”

Other elected officials said they got the shot to protect those around them, including their constituents.

Which members of Topeka’s governing body are vaccinated?

Pretty much all is the short answer.

Council member Sylvia Ortiz had an appointment to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but the appointment was canceled when the use of J&J was paused.

On May 13, Ortiz said she is scheduling another appointment to get the vaccine.

Everyone else, including the mayor, has received at least one dose of a vaccine or been fully vaccinated.

Council member Tony Emerson has only received his first shot because his blood contained high levels of antibodies from his infection last summer. Emerson had been donating convalescent plasma to help others fighting COVID-19, but was told by the blood bank that they no longer needed the plasma.

Emerson, Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla and council member Mike Lesser all tested positive for COVID-19 in the past year. Lesser said getting vaccinated is a personal choice, but it was an easy decision for him after having a “significant case” of COVID-19.

“I still, six months later, have lingering symptoms, such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and an accelerated heart rate at times with no explanation,” Lesser said. “The advantages of receiving the vaccine outweighed the risks in my particular situation.”

Which members of the Shawnee County Commission are vaccinated?

Commissioners Aaron Mays and Kevin Cook said they are vaccinated, but commissioner Bill Riphahn declined to answer the question.

“I do have concerns that participation in your survey would tend toward normalization of obligation to put out private medical information to anyone who asks,” Riphahn said.

Mays said getting the vaccine is the best way to “restore the way of life that our community is accustomed to.”