JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri has been fighting the pandemic for nine months, and people are looking for some relief.
A COVID-19 vaccine could be part of that relief.
The state came out with a COVID-19 vaccination plan, which is over 100 pages long, that details how it will pass out the vaccine to Missouri residents when one becomes available.
Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, submitted the plan to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the public Oct. 15. At Gov. Mike Parson’s weekly coronavirus briefing that day, Williams said the plan was months in the making and included input from state leaders and stakeholders.
“The hallmark of this plan is collaboration and coordination,” Williams said.
At the House Special Committee on Disease Control and Prevention hearing Nov. 10, Williams testified on COVID-19 vaccine developments. He said a vaccine could be available for certain Missouri residents as soon as December.
“We fully anticipate having in Missouri by mid-December, a vaccine to start our implementation,” Williams said.
However, that December goal is only possible if the FDA approves a COVID-19 vaccine. Williams explained to KOMU 8 News in an interview Nov. 10 about what the vaccine approval process looks like.
“Once (Pfizer) submits the Emergency Use Authorization (to the FDA), which we believe is going to be in two to three weeks, and the indication is that’ll take two weeks,” Williams said. “Then once it’s approved, it’ll start being shipped out, but it can’t be administered until the vaccine administration council approves it, and we were told that will take about three days. So if you add two weeks and two weeks and three days, and we’ll be ready to administer it, you’re looking at about five to six weeks.”
Williams expects the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine to be the first vaccine administered to Missouri residents. This comes after the company announced its vaccine was found to be 90% effective in preventing COVID-19.
Missouri’s COVID-19 vaccine plan is split into three phases.
In Phase 1A, health care workers and those working in long-term care facilities would be the first to get the vaccine. In Phase 1B, essential workers who can’t socially distance at work, such as emergency responders and teachers, would be vaccinated, as well as people who are the most vulnerable to the virus, including people over the age of 65.
In the first phase, there will be limited availability. Since the Pfizer vaccine has to be stored at extremely cold temperatures, the vaccine will only be available at five locations throughout the state at first. The locations have yet to be announced, but Williams said the locations will be in the urban areas.
“Our plan is to move the people to the vaccine, not the vaccine to the people,” Williams said.
The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses, so those who get that vaccine will need to get a second shot in about three to four weeks after the first.
“They kind of need a second dose to get that long lasting immunity,” Williams said. “I would just tell people that if you’re going to get the first one you really need to get the second one.”
In phase two, the state would focus on populations that are of increased risk such as racial and ethnic minorities, housing insecure individuals, people living and working in congregate settings and other groups that are at higher risk of having severe outcomes for the virus.
The third and final phase includes all Missouri residents who want the vaccine. The vaccine would not be available to the general public until 2021.
“We anticipate that it will probably be April before we start doing vaccinations throughout the state,” Williams said.
In the third phase, the vaccine will be administered around the state at doctor offices, mass vaccination sites in gyms and at drive-thru events.
The state has no plans of mandating the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Williams. It will be up to employers on whether or not they will mandate their employees to get the vaccine. Boone Hospital Center said they will not be requiring their employees to get the vaccine.
As Missouri and the country awaits for a COVID-19 vaccine to become available, Williams encourages Missouri residents to continue to follow health guidelines.
“Even with a vaccine coming we still have about four or five months of really practicing good public health,” Williams said.