With 350,000 doses idling, Missouri extends vaccine to 65-and-over

Parson to keep school buildings closed for rest of school year

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson Thursday announced the state will move into Phase 1B of its COVID-19 it vaccine distribution plan on Monday, extending inoculations to first-responders, high-risk residents and general public aged 65 and older.

The broadening eligibility comes after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported Wednesday that, of 526,425 COVID-19 vaccination doses distributed to the state, only 161,784 had been administered.

Parson said expanding eligibility is necessary because the federal government will ”significantly” increase vaccine shipments next week.

“The more supply we receive, the quicker we can reach our goal of making vaccines available to every Missourian who wants one,” he said in a statement.

Under Phase 1A, “front-line” health care workers and nursing home residents were the priorities. The state will list Phase 1B vaccinators Friday at www.MOstopsCovid.com.

In addition to dealing with the logistics of intermittent supply, public health experts must also contend with demand tempered by public misperceptions.

Nearly a quarter of Missourians in a recent survey say they will not be inoculated, an indication state officials must step up messaging that vaccines now being administered to healthcare workers and nursing home residents are safe and effective.

“Broad vaccination is the key to response and recovery in Missouri,” Missouri Hospital Association (MHA) President/CEO Herb Kuhn said. “Although the vaccine is not available to the public currently, it will be essential to have an informed, confident and energized public as we move into the widespread distribution phase of vaccination efforts.”

In a poll of 800 Missourians released this week, 23 percent said they would “definitely not” get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Of those surveyed by Virginia-based American Viewpoint on behalf of MHA, 58 percent said they are “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to be vaccinated, while 38 percent said they are “not likely” or “very unlikely” to be inoculated.

The 23 percent “very unlikely” to get the vaccine are primarily middle-aged Republicans “and those who identify as conservative,” American Viewpoint said.

Older adults, especially men and Democrats, were most likely to get the vaccine right away, according to the poll.

About 70 percent of Missourians in the survey said they are somewhat or very confident the vaccine will be distributed fairly. Only 42 percent of African American participants shared those sentiments.

Healthcare providers also report a surprisingly low turnout by “patient-facing” staff in taking advantage of their Phase 1A priority status to be inoculated.

St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Director Dr. Alex Garza said this week only between 45-to-65 percent of BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke’s Hospital staff responded to inoculation invitations.

While area hospital systems expect staff vaccination pace to increase with the holidays over and increasing evidence of safe efficacy, he expressed exasperation over the low response rate.

“What we don’t know is, why? Why didn’t they sign up to get a vaccine?” he asked, acknowledging “a segment of that population across health care is going to have some hesitancy in getting the vaccine for various reasons.”

The Missouri Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes across the state, reports “very good participation” among residents but apparent ambivalence among staff.

Americare Senior Living, with manages 64 Missouri nursing homes, reports 90 percent of residents typically show up at vaccination clinics but staff participation ranges from 8-to-60 percent.

With about 350,000 vaccine doses idling in freezers, Garza said hospitals may set a deadline for workers to commit one way or another to being vaccinated.

“Then we can say, ‘OK, you’ve been offered your chance, and it’s fine if you want to decline now, but then we are going to call ourselves ‘mission complete and move on’” in getting those doses to other people, he said.

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