JEFFERSON CITY, MO. – State health officials testified in front of some Missouri lawmakers Monday to let them know where the state stands on vaccinations.
The last time Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff Mike Parson and the state health director testified before lawmakers, the hearing lasted three hours. Monday’s meeting of the Health and Mental Health Committee lasted less than an hour.
While some representatives thanked them for the progress of the vaccination schedule, others said more needed to be done.
“All of you have still not reached out to representatives who represent these deprived communities that are communities of color,” said Rep. Kimberly-Ann Collins, D – St. Louis. “They haven’t even held a mass vaccination event north of Natural Bridge in St. Louis.”
Collins said she couldn’t thank state officials because her district north of downtown St. Louis is like a vaccine desert.
“I have a lot of uninhabited residents in our pop-up shelters in the city of St. Louis who are over 65 years old with chronic diseases who want the vaccine,” said Collins. “How do we coordinate that we can get all of you to these shelters so they can be vaccinated because these are our most vulnerable people in the state of Missouri.”
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Other members of the House on the committee thanked state officials for introducing the Missouri vaccination schedule.
“Kudos to you guys for embracing this nightmare and doing a really great job with it,” said Rep. Michael O’Donnell, R – St. Louis.
Parson’s Deputy Chief of Staff Robert Knodell and Department of Health and Seniors Director Dr. Randall Williams, told the committee that while Missouri is doing well, the state has received fewer vaccines per capita than most of the surrounding states.
“About 2.3 million shots were administered across the state,” Knodell told members. “We’re seeing vaccination progress at the rate of about 250,000 a week.”
The state announced Monday that it would work with FEMA to deliver 3,000 doses per day in the St. Louis area for eight weeks starting April 7. The daily program will take place on the Concourse Level of the Dome in the America’s Center. Free parking spaces are provided.
“We’re trying to get the federal government to work with us to open and operate other locations across the state, not just in the city of St. Louis,” Knodell said. “There will be an additional federal allocation so it doesn’t interfere with other ongoing efforts.”
Knodell said the state had a backlash for waiting to vaccinate certain groups.
“We keep saying we continue to protect the most vulnerable Missourians,” Knodell said. “We put a lot of pressure on because we didn’t open certain groups to vaccinations as quickly as other states.” We have focused on Missourians over 65 and those under 65 with comordaries as long as we did, although it was a controversial decision. “
A Republican member said she felt the state was requiring Missourians to get the vaccine.
“This is lost on most of the news and occurs when everyone is vaccinated or otherwise,” said Rep. Lisa Thomas, R – Lake Ozark.
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Williams responded by saying, “Patients have the right to make their own decisions.”
Knodell said the state is about to launch a four-month marketing campaign in which health professionals will speak to Missourians about the importance of the vaccine.
“This vaccine is approved by the federal government for emergencies, so the issue of mandates, especially at the government level, is not being considered at this time,” said Knodell. “We are about to enter a phase in which demand will decline, perhaps as quickly in all areas of the state as in some others.”
Rep. Brian Seitz, R-Branson asked Knodell and Williams why vaccinated people still have to wear masks and social distancing.
“We have variants, the UK variant which is said to be 30 percent of the cases in the US, and the known fact that you can get this after COVID,” Williams said. “There can be a little window in which, even if you have been vaccinated, someone coughs in your face, the virus gets into your nose and your immune system kicks in. So there might be a little window.”
Knodell told the committee that the state had created its own retail pharmacy program. The federal retail pharmacy program uses facilities like Walmart, Sam’s Club, Hy-Vee, and Health Mart to deliver the vaccine. As part of the state program, Knodell said there were more local pharmacies. Every week, he said, the state sends out between 100 and 400 first doses of the vaccine.
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