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Sultan: Hunger Games: Vaccine edition
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Sultan: Hunger Games: Vaccine edition

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Gov. Mike Parson visits vaccination clinics in St. Louis metropolitan area

Gov. Mike Parson takes questions for the media after touring the vaccination clinic on March 4, hosted by BJC HealthCare at Christian Hospital Northeast.

Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

Don’t say Gov. Mike Parson never gave Missouri cities anything.

He’s given hundreds of thousands of people in the state’s largest metro areas their own version of the Hunger Games — a chance to hunt for the COVID vaccine in the reddest parts of the state.

More than 30,000 vaccine seekers in a private Facebook group are sharing stories like this recent post: “Drove with family members to Poplar Bluff for the Butler County mass vaccination event today, hoping for leftovers. Arrived at 3 p.m. (event ended at 4), told them we were Phase 3 and not yet eligible for appointments and just hoping for extras and were vaccinated within five minutes.”

Even when a vaccine hunter’s quest ends in success, these stories highlight the abject failure of state leadership.

Every day, there’s another example. The town of Monett, Missouri, with a population of less than 9,000, recently received 1,000 Pfizer vaccines. Initially, only 100 people signed up to receive them. If St. Louis-area residents want to get those potentially lifesaving shots, they are invited to make the eight-hour round-trip drive to Monett. Twice.

More than 7,700 doses of vaccine were left over after mass vaccination events across the state in a single week, the Post-Dispatch reported. At an event at a high school in Unionville in late February, they had to throw out 143 unused vaccines.

Imagine that: wasting vaccines in rural Missouri, while more than 200,000 eligible people in St. Louis County are still waiting for theirs.

Parson has repeatedly defended the state’s vaccine distribution, which just so happens to heavily favor the areas that voted for him, as fair and equitable.

After seeing Parson’s comments, one reader wrote to me: “Don’t piss on us and tell us it’s raining, Governor.”

Meanwhile, the Missouri Independent reported that a consulting firm (paid for by the taxpayers) has repeatedly found Missouri’s urban centers have the largest “vaccination gap” — the estimated number of eligible residents who still haven’t received their first dose of the vaccine.

The governor needed Deloitte Consulting to tell him this? Missouri officials have said that they plan to send a larger portion of the state’s vaccine to St. Louis soon, taking into account population, beginning the week of March 29.

Beginning next week, however, an additional 550,000 Missourians will be eligible to get the vaccine — including teachers. Perhaps the most ethical way for educators in big cities to spend their upcoming spring breaks would be to join in these Vaccine Hunger Games: Those who have the time and skills to hunt down a rural vaccine, and the means to drive hundreds of miles to get it, ought to do so. Hopefully, this will free up more doses in urban areas — making it easier for the disabled, the elderly and the poorest residents, who can’t make an hours-long journey, to get the vaccine closer to home.

In fact, this is the advice that the St. Louis County Department of Public Health is giving residents who call them asking where they can get a shot.

For those who qualify and are able, “drive out and get the vaccine wherever they think they can get it,” said Dr. Faisal Khan, director of St. Louis County Department of Public Health. “The distribution of the vaccine is the major concern. The supply is the root cause, but the allocation piece has been a chronic issue,” he said.

Even as Missouri’s governor slowly realizes there is more “vaccine interest” in the most densely populated areas of the state, the supply is still a trickle.

“On March 15, we will have 130,000 more people eligible in St. Louis County, while the supply is still between 3,000 to 4,000 for our public health department,” Khan said. Hospital systems and pharmacies have their own allotments, but the health department often serves the most vulnerable populations.

Since he isn’t running for reelection, perhaps Parson feels protected from consequences of his pettiness, regardless of how deadly it could be.

But there are Republican legislators in these parts, too.

City-dwellers who have been left in a vaccine desert ought to ask their local GOP representatives to have a word with their guy.

He’s made it clear who he’s willing to hear.

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