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Downtown clinic provides COVID-19 vaccine to St. Louis' homeless population

Downtown clinic provides COVID-19 vaccine to St. Louis' homeless population

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U.S. federal health agencies on Tuesday recommended pausing the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine after six recipients developed a rare disorder involving blood clots. Fred Katayama reports.

ST. LOUIS — People gathered outside St. Louis City Hall on Friday morning for a giveaway of bus tickets, clothes, food — and a few dozen doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

The event is held each week to provide essential items to those in need. On Friday, for the first time, a local pharmacy also provided doses of vaccine manufactured by Moderna.

The Rev. Ray Redlich said the pharmacy originally planned to provide the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson. But earlier this week, Missouri and Illinois health officials paused distribution of the J&J vaccine after federal regulators said they were investigating unusual blood clots in six women who had received the vaccine in the U.S., out of around 7 million recipients in total.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine makes up a small portion of the St. Louis region’s vaccine supply — between just 3% and 4% of the doses administered in the 11-county region, according to the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force. But it is the only single-dose vaccine authorized for emergency use in the U.S., so many considered it an advantage for vaccinating those who are homeless, homebound or live far from medical services.

In St. Louis, the city health department estimates between 900 and 1,500 people are homeless.

“This is a place where the homeless feel comfortable coming,” said Redlich, of the New Life Evangelistic Center, which organizes the weekly downtown event. “They know they’re welcomed.”

Glen Akin, 48, received a first dose of the Moderna vaccine on Friday. Akin, a volunteer at the New Life Evangelistic Center, said he had seen the lines at other vaccination sites and was discouraged from going.

“It’s just a weight off your mind,” Akin said.

In late March, in coordination with the Missouri National Guard and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, about 200 people were vaccinated at St. Patrick Center, an organization that supports people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Anthony D’Agostino, CEO of St. Patrick Center, said that probably covered about half of the people who live at the organization’s various locations.

D’Agostino said the event did not require people to show driver’s licenses or insurance cards, which can be a barrier for the homeless. He would like to see more vaccine events in the region that don’t require that type of documentation.

That same day in March, about 140 more people were vaccinated at City Hope St. Louis and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

As the region’s overall vaccine supply has improved, many providers have been able to switch this week from offering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to offering Pfizer or Moderna — for which two doses are recommended for full effectiveness.

An advisory group for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention met Wednesday and decided to take more time to review the data to determine whether the J&J vaccine was the cause of the blood clots.

Dr. Melissa Tepe, chief medical officer for Affinia Healthcare, said the pause on the J&J vaccine might complicate efforts to vaccinate certain groups. But, encouragingly, most people who have received a two-dose vaccine through Affinia have returned for the second one.

“I think there will potentially be a few fewer people that come back for that second dose,” Tepe said. “But overall, at least they’re still getting one dose. That’s not perfect, but it’s better than no doses at all.”

Missouri on Friday reported that more than 2 million people, or 33% of the population, have received a first dose of vaccine. And of those, nearly 1.4 million, or 22% of the population, have been fully vaccinated.

Missouri reported 466 new confirmed cases and 308 new probable cases of COVID-19 on Friday. The seven-day average of new confirmed cases was 422, according to a Post-Dispatch analysis. The state also reported four more deaths because of the virus.

Illinois reported 3,866 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, up from 3,581 the day before. The state’s seven-day average of new cases was 3,312, down from 3,331 the day before, according to a Post-Dispatch analysis. The state also reported 24 more deaths due to the virus.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force reported 45 new COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals in the area, up from 36 the day before. The task force reported a total of 211 virus patients across area BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke’s Hospital facilities — down from 216 the day before. Task force data lags two days.

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