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Few show for vaccinations at Dome, as FEMA opens event to all eligible Missourians

Few show for vaccinations at Dome, as FEMA opens event to all eligible Missourians

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ST. LOUIS — An eight-week mass vaccination site in downtown St. Louis opened its doors on Wednesday to all eligible Missourians, regardless of their residence, even as far fewer than expected showed up to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency opened the clinic at The Dome at America’s Center with promises of vaccinating up to 3,000 a day or 168,000 in total. But by day’s end only about 700 doses had been administered.

Government officials including Gov. Mike Parson and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson visited The Dome at America’s Center Monday, April 5, 2021, where mass vaccination efforts are set to begin Wednesday — kicking off of an eight-week marathon that aims to administer 3,000 shots a day, seven days a week, for about 168,000 doses, total. The upcoming event is coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Video by Bryce Gray

FEMA targeted residents in high-poverty and high-need ZIP codes in St. Louis and St. Louis County, limiting registrations at first to make sure it had room to vaccinate those groups. “We were concerned about too many people showing up, so we were a little bit cautious,” said Andrew Meyer, Federal Emergency Management Agency’s deputy site director for the location.

But counties across the state have gotten more and more vaccine in recent weeks, and mass vaccination events have struggled to attract enough interest to use up their allotted doses. Several events have had to call in last-minute appointments. Others have put out pleas on social media. And some area clinics have relaxed rules on invitations and appointments in order to fill slots.

Meyer said FEMA is now doing outreach through churches, businesses and organizations that work with refugees, immigrants and homeless. FEMA staff also plan to register residents at the St. Louis Cardinals home opener on Thursday, plus at an upcoming auto show in the Dome.

“We’re working every angle we can,” Meyer said.

On Friday, the state is expected to open up eligibility to Phase 3, which includes all residents age 16 and older. According to state estimates, that means 1.1 million will become eligible, for a total of 4.5 million.

Dr. Alex Garza, who leads the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said during a briefing Wednesday that hospitals and health departments have reported recently that it is “taking more effort” to fill vaccination appointments.

He said that vaccinators are sending out greater numbers of invitations to fill the same number of slots, because many of the people on their lists have already gotten a dose through another health care provider.

Last week St. Charles County administered about 10,000 first doses of COVID-19 vaccines, and had to contact about 40,000 to 50,000 people in order to fill those appointments, said Doug Bolnick, public information officer for the county health department.

Bolnick said that part of the issue is finding out which residents have already been vaccinated through another health care provider. When someone receives an invitation to get vaccinated, he said, they can help the department by responding to indicate that they have already gotten a dose. St. Charles County requires invitations and appointments for vaccines, and is not accepting walk-ins.

On Wednesday afternoon at the Dome, clinic staff directed cars into the parking lot at Cole Street and North Sixth Street. Attendees were sent into the Dome through the Broadway North entrance, and checked in upstairs. Almost 140 U.S. Navy and Marines personnel staffed the clinic.

Tamyra Blackmon, of Affton, found out about the event on the Nextdoor app. Blackmon said that COVID-19 has been a source of anxiety, especially in her work as a flight attendant. She said she comes into contact sometimes with 300 people a day, working on four to six flights each with 50 seats.

“It’s a lot of people,” Blackmon said. “And not knowing if they’re vaccinated or not … I definitely felt like I, at least, should be vaccinated.”

Jim Kuechenmeister, of St. Louis, said he learned about the vaccination site on television news. He said he was expecting to have to wait, but the whole process only took about a half-hour, including the 15-minute observation period required after each vaccination.

“I was in and out. I couldn’t believe it,” Kuechenmeister said. “I was really surprised, and thankful.”

Missouri reported on Wednesday that nearly 1.8 million people have received a first dose of vaccine, or 29% of the population. And of those, 1.1 million have been fully vaccinated, or about 18%.

Missouri reported 458 new confirmed cases and 359 new probable cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. The seven-day average of new confirmed cases, which has remained between 335 and 375 for the past two weeks, was 361 on Wednesday, according to a Post-Dispatch analysis.

The state also reported one more death due to the virus.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force reported 48 new COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals in the area, up from 39 the day before.

Annika Merrilees • 314-340-8528 @annie3mer on Twitter amerrilees@post-dispatch.com

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