ST. LOUIS — By noon Saturday, the first city-sponsored mass vaccination event in north St. Louis was well on its way to its goal of administering 1,750 first doses of the Moderna vaccine.
The event was held at the Omega Center in the city’s Mark Twain neighborhood, where a line of cars formed early Saturday.
People who had signed up through the city health department were given appointments. To be notified of the event, residents had to live within seven nearby ZIP codes. They were also 65 or older or had qualifying medical conditions, fitting with current Missouri distribution requirements for COVID-19 vaccines.
Joe Brooks, 65, sat on a folding chair outside the vaccine site just after getting his first dose.
“I’m so elated, that is why I’m sitting outside in the sun rather than in the hall,” said Brooks, a retired operating engineer and a board member for the Omega Psi Phi organization that oversees the Omega Center. He wore his club letter jacket for the occasion of getting his vaccine. “I’m enjoying just seeing people and having a conversation right now. I’m a social person, and I’ve been in quarantine for 10 months.”
Brooks lives alone and said he has left the house only a few times a week to go to the store, and occupied himself by watching movies. Now that he’s vaccinated, he said, he hopes it won’t be too long until he can help run bingo at the Omega Center again.
“I lost at least 10 people I know to COVID,” he said. “So this is a good feeling today. It’s why it was an easy choice for us to offer up the hall for this.”
All appointments were filled for the event beforehand, but organizers said they had to turn many people away who were misinformed that the vaccines would be open to walk-ins.
St. Louis Health Director Fredrick Echols said he thought the event was an important step in increasing vaccination numbers in north city.
“Early in the pandemic, north city had the highest burden of COVID-19 cases; that continues to be the case today,” he said. “So we have to be intentional in informing the community and distributing the vaccine in the most efficient way possible.”
Before Saturday, the city had administered about 10,000 first doses of the vaccine and about 4,000 second doses. Echols said about 60,000 people have registered with the city to be vaccinated.
St. Louis mayoral spokesman Jacob Long said city officials are planning a similar mass vaccination event for next weekend in south St. Louis. Details on that event have not been made public.
Residents may register for updates on availability at stlouis-mo.gov or by calling 314-657-1499.
According to state vaccination data, about 8.9% of the city’s population has received shots, while 12% of people in St. Louis County have gotten one. Both are lagging behind the statewide rate of 13.3% for those who have received at least one dose.
Echols said he is aware of complaints from some residents that the city vaccination rates appear to be lagging behind more rural areas of the state.
For example, Putnam County, in northern Missouri, was advertising extra doses of the vaccine Saturday on Facebook. About 2 p.m., doses were available on a first-come, first-served basis to adults meeting the state’s Phase 1A or Phase 1B designations for prioritized vaccinations. By 4 p.m., excess doses were available to anyone 18 and older. The doses needed to be administered Saturday to avoid expiration, the county said.
“We’re keeping a close eye on distribution across the state,” Echols said at the St. Louis event. “However, our most important concern is that we properly manage the vaccine we receive for our community … we can’t control the decisions that the state makes. All we can control is our efforts.”
In the St. Louis area, the seven-day rolling average for new hospital admissions linked to the virus slid from 45 per day to 43, according to updated numbers released Saturday by the St. Louis Metropolitan Task Force. That rate still slightly exceeds the 40 admissions per day that local health officials have identified as a critical threshold throughout much of the pandemic.
Currently, hospital bed capacity stands at 80% at task force hospitals in the region, with intensive care units at 81% of their total bed capacity.
Statewide, Missouri announced 478 newly confirmed coronavirus cases Saturday, for a total of 477,950 known infections, to date. The state has counted 7,920 deaths attributed to the disease, including seven new deaths registered Saturday. Over the past week, the state has seen an average of 480 new cases per day — its lowest rate of new infections since early July.
Illinois, meanwhile, added 1,780 confirmed infections to its statewide caseload, and 35 newly announced deaths. Until this month, the last time the state’s rate of new infections was as low as the past week’s average of 1,803 new cases per day was back in mid-September.
Overall, Illinois has tallied 1,185,447 confirmed cases, with at least 22,710 deaths attributed to the virus.
Bryce Gray of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in St. Louis-area hospitals have dropped substantially, but Dr. Alex Garza warned that the drop has stalled. For the past two weeks, about 50 people with COVID-19 continue to be admitted to the hospital every day, he said. About six patients die a day.
Gov. Mike Parson said teachers and school staff, child care providers, government employees, food workers and employees in other critical sectors of the economy would qualify for vaccines beginning March 15.
How to find out about COVID-19 vaccines in the St. Louis area.
Area health agencies and community groups are mounting an unprecedented effort to vaccinate seniors, the homebound and disabled.