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Missouri Governor Parson blasts reports of inequitable vaccine distribution to St. Louis region

Missouri Governor Parson blasts reports of inequitable vaccine distribution to St. Louis region

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JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson on Thursday blasted reports that the state’s vaccine distribution plan has neglected urban areas and accused a top St. Louis health official of misleading residents about the number of vaccines that have been made available.

During a news conference Thursday, an irritated Parson, joined by Department of Health and Senior Services Director Dr. Randall Williams, denied that the St. Louis region had been shortchanged in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine doses.

The governor singled out Dr. Alex Garza, director of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, for criticism, accusing him of spreading misinformation.

“Dr. Garza is now spreading information, false information about the vaccine administration in the St. Louis area to once more spread fear and panic. The people of St. Louis, Missouri, deserve better from their local leaders,” the governor said.

Garza, who has headed the task force since its creation nearly a year ago, did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

A statement from the task force did not address Parson’s comments about Garza but said the most important thing is to get as many people vaccinated as “quickly, safely and equitably” as possible.

“We are confident in the way we estimate the number of doses received by Region C, and our goal has always been to ensure fair and equitable distribution of vaccine with all of our partners.” the statement said. “We will continue to work with the State of Missouri and our regional partners as we have throughout the pandemic, to care for our community and increase access to the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Garza, who also serves as the chief medical officer for SSM Health, was chosen as director of the task force by the St. Louis area’s four major hospital systems — SSM, Mercy, BJC HealthCare and St. Luke’s Hospital.

The task force was created soon after the pandemic started in March; Garza, who has since held numerous press conferences to provide the latest data on hospitalizations and the spread of the coronavirus, is among the most recognized authorities on the pandemic in the region.

The Post-Dispatch reported earlier this week that Region C received 15,600 doses to its high-throughput hospitals in addition to smaller amounts through other channels such as health departments and federally qualified health centers.

Garza and Tim Brinker, the Republican presiding commissioner of Franklin County, on Tuesday complained that the region, with about 2.2 million people, represented 37% of the state’s population but was not receiving a proportional amount of the vaccine.

Both said Region C, which includes the city of St. Louis and Franklin, Jefferson, Lincoln, Perry, Pike, St. Charles, St. Francois, St. Louis, Ste. Genevieve, Warren and Washington counties, should be getting more than 34,000 doses per week.

The Post-Dispatch reported Wednesday that the number was scheduled to increase to 33,200 doses next week.

The state had not provided total numbers for the entire region, so the total amount of vaccines distributed to the St. Louis region — including to hospitals, federally qualified health centers, local public health departments and other community providers — was unclear.

The state also hasn’t responded to a Jan. 20 public records request from the Post-Dispatch asking how much vaccine has gone where in the state.

But Parson’s administration said Thursday the St. Louis region’s allotment for next week represents only a slight increase.

The governor’s spokeswoman, Kelli Jones, wrote in an email Thursday that the number of vaccines given in the past week was 32,175, not counting vaccinations through long-term care facilities or the federal retail pharmacy program. A breakdown of how those doses were allocated was not provided.

Parson said that since vaccination began, the St. Louis region has received a proportional amount of the vaccine. While specific rural counties may jump ahead after a mass vaccination event, rural Missouri is not being prioritized overall, he said.

“The idea that because I come from rural Missouri and there is some magical divide, that I am taking care of rural Missouri more than I am urban areas is totally false,” he said. “Each region of this state will be treated equally. We are all Missourians in this battle against COVID-19.”

As of early Thursday afternoon, the state’s COVID vaccination dashboard showed Shelby County in northeast Missouri at 18.1% with the highest percent of residents who had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Newton County, in southwest Missouri, was the lowest with 3.4% vaccinated.

St. Louis, at 6.6%, and St. Louis County, at 8.3%, were below the 9.4% vaccinated statewide.

State health officials reported Thursday the state has confirmed 469,223 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, an increase of 1,034 from the previous day. The state also reported 7,431 deaths, an increase of 287.

Health department spokeswoman Lisa Cox said the jump in deaths came after a weekly review of death certificates. Most of the 287 deaths had not already been reported to the state by another entity. Of the deaths, one occurred in May, one in July, one in August, one in October, seven in November, 102 in December, 162 in January and 12 in February.

The Associated Press and Michele Munz of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

Updated at 5:18 p.m.(tncms-asset)8a29cb00-6bff-11eb-b6c4-00163ec2aa77[1](/tncms-asset)

From November: Garza implores Parson to act

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