Gov. Mike Parson announced a collaboration between the National Guard, clergy, local health teams and others to staff COVID-19 vaccination sites in the coming weeks at a news briefing Wednesday.
At the briefing, Parson and others stressed that Missouri is currently seeing encouraging data and they’re focusing on planning how to get the vaccine distributed as quickly and efficiently as possible as supply increases.
Parson said Missouri currently has a 12.4% positivity rate, which indicates that the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 has notably dropped from the 24.4% positivity rate in November. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said Missouri is ninth in the country in terms of fewest infections.
But Parson said that health care systems in Missouri remain strained and it remains vital that Missouri residents continue to take precautions even as the vaccine is distributed.
Though demand still far outweighs supply, Missouri will begin to see shipments of around 76,000 vaccines a week starting at the end of this week. This rate would not be sufficient to vaccinate, in a reasonable time frame, all 2.5 million Missouri residents currently eligible — which includes health care workers, emergency services workers, people over 65 years old and those with certain underlying health conditions.
Williams said he’s expecting that with the release of the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines in March, supply will increase and the rest of the eligible tiers will be vaccinated more quickly.
The current reported number of Missouri residents vaccinated — 250,000 — is likely underrepresenting how many people have actually been vaccinated, Williams said. This is due to a backlog of data coming in from vaccine distributors, 68 of which are relying on reporting the data manually.
The incongruity between how many vaccines have been shipped and how many have been administered may also be partially due to the lag time between when vaccines are received and when the shots are given.
The National Guard will primarily be aiding in vaccine distribution. There are about 1,200 vaccine distributors throughout the state, though not all distributors actively have a supply of the vaccine. The governor said as supply increases, they’re setting up additional infrastructure to get it in people’s arms as quickly as possible.
The Guard will be staffing mass vaccination sites and targeted vaccination sites. Thirty personnel will staff each of the nine vaccination sites at highway patrol centers across the state. The mass sites will be capable of distributing a total of 25,000 doses a day.
Targeted sites are intended to reach more vulnerable or underserved populations. These sites will be staffed by four personnel from the National Guard. More information on dates and locations will come from the governor’s office.
“What we do every week, we find out through a system called Tiberious how (many vaccines) we’re getting — for this week it’s about 80,000 as the governor said — and then we look around the state, and we equitably distribute it based on different factors,” Williams said.
These factors include geographical mapping of which areas aren’t receiving enough vaccines and targeting areas with particular vulnerabilities.
Vaccination distribution will also be targeted within St. Louis and Kansas City, Parson said. Health officials will be partnering with local clergy to set up sites throughout both cities.
Williams said that at this point no cases of the U.K. strain, a mutated version of COVID-19 that has been found in other areas of the Midwest including Illinois, have been identified in Missouri. However, Williams said this is a factor they’ll be watching very closely.
The governor said that though he has not taken the COVID-19 vaccine yet, he does plan to. Though the governor is currently eligible to receive the vaccine based on his age, he said because he’s already been exposed to the virus he feels other more vulnerable Missouri residents are more of a priority.
Because demand still outweighs supply, the governor said vaccines are still being distributed on a very limited basis and many eligible people have not yet been able to receive the vaccine.
Parson expressed confidence in the the state’s vaccination distribution plan — a plan he said is intended to protect and prioritize the most vulnerable populations and distribute the vaccine equitably.
“At some point there will be a huge amount of vaccine and a huge amount of people, in the millions, that require the vaccine,” Parson said. “So we want to prepare for that day. ... All this that we’re doing right now, with the Guard and everything, is preparing for that day. We’ll be ready — Missouri will be ready.”