U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., discussed the importance of vaccination and the rise of mental health issues across the country at a Wednesday afternoon roundtable event at MU’s Walsworth Family Columns Club.
The in-person discussion, which took place in the university’s COVID-19 vaccination center, included an array of university administrators and other experts in medicine, psychiatry, neuroscience, COVID-19 safety and agriculture. University of Missouri President Mun Choi led the discussion, guiding questions and comments around the circle of chairs.
After thanking Blunt for funding and backing the university throughout its pharmaceutical partnerships and research, Choi gave way to the senator.
Blunt, who had just received a tour of the vaccination site, emphasized efforts by the state to distribute COVID-19 vaccines. All adults in Missouri will be eligible for vaccines beginning Friday, when the state moves to Phase 3 of the allocation plan — thanks to Gov. Mike Parson, Blunt said.
“This is opening the door,” he said. “It removes obstacles so people don’t wonder about their eligibility.”
Phase 3, the final phase of distribution, will include all state residents regardless of occupation.
Although Blunt has previously stated he supports people’s personal choice in getting the COVID-19 vaccine, he said the key is to not give the virus a home by being a “community with immunity.”
“Vaccines do make a difference,” he said. “This process seems to be addressing the anti-vaccination movement as well.”
This movement, which has infiltrated the national conversation, has caused skepticism among some Missouri residents, said Patricia Hall, the director of the Truman Veterans’ Hospital. She said rural counties across Missouri still have strong feelings against the vaccines and that a more “robust effort” is needed to address the issue.
Hall also sparked conversation about mental health — the second topic slated for discussion at the roundtable. She said the increased isolation during the pandemic has heightened issues like anxiety and stress.
UM System Curator Robin Wenneker said she has heard concerns about reentry after the pandemic and conversations surrounding the stresses of working fully in person have begun within the university community.
Because of the pandemic, Steve Zweig, dean of MU School of Medicine, has seen a major increase in telehealth services in his own primary care practice.
“We went from zero telehealth visits to 6,000 in one week,” he said.
Zweig spoke of the future possibilities of telehealth for mental health treatments, noting the importance of expanding health care access to people living in rural areas without broadband internet.
Blunt said the scientific community could learn new, different approaches should the need occur. Expediting vaccines during emergencies could also be more effective in the future, he added.
“This is a good reminder that vaccines work and that we are leaders in the world in this,” he said to the media after the discussion. “I’d encourage people who haven’t gotten a vaccine to get one.”
When asked about the likeliness of required vaccine passports, Blunt said he doesn’t believe passports or vaccines should be required, though he recommends getting vaccinated.
“As you see your friends at work, your friends at church ... begin to have a vaccine, reconnect with their families and not have negative health consequences,” he said, “I just think people are going to be reminded again of the social responsibility — if not the requirement — of stepping up and doing your part to see that diseases like the the virus have nowhere to go.”