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St. Louis-area hospitals may still be vaccinating seniors when 500,000 more Missourians will be eligible for vaccine in mid-March

St. Louis-area hospitals may still be vaccinating seniors when 500,000 more Missourians will be eligible for vaccine in mid-March

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Missouri National Guard staffs first state vaccine clinic in Poplar Bluff

Health workers draw vaccines during Missouri's first mass COVID-19 vaccination event at a closed water park in Poplar Bluff on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson visited a St. Louis vaccination site Thursday and sounded optimistic about getting shots as soon as possible to all residents, even as critics in urban areas have complained that rural parts of the state are getting more than their proportional share.

ST. LOUIS — Local hospitals are still working through a backlog of residents eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, and will not likely be ready to inoculate essential workers such as teachers when they become eligible this month, hospital officials said on Wednesday.

An estimated 550,000 Missourians, including teachers, grocers and bus drivers, will become eligible for COVID-19 vaccines on March 15. But Dr. Alex Garza, chief of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, cautioned during a briefing Wednesday that those residents may not be able to get vaccinated right away. The hospitals want to make sure the majority of the currently eligible residents, including the elderly and sick, are vaccinated before moving into the next tiers.

“Because we have limited quantity, we have to make sure that we’re protecting the most vulnerable,” Garza said.

Garza said that more than 70% of patients admitted to one of the local health systems with COVID-19 were 65 years or older or had underlying health conditions. More than half of the patients who died of the virus in that health system were above the age of 75.

The task force released estimates on Wednesday showing that at the current rate, 75% of people in the metro area could be vaccinated by the end of July. The estimate for the entire, 12-county region shows 75% vaccinated by late August. Garza noted that with greater supply, those goals could be met sooner.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday pledged enough vaccines for every American by the end of May.

In December, vaccines began rolling out for the first group of Missourians, or “Phase 1A,” which includes patient-facing health care workers and the staff and residents of long-term care facilities. On Jan. 14 state officials opened the door for the next group, Phase 1B Tier 1, which includes public health workers and emergency services. On Jan. 18 Phase 1B Tier 2 became eligible, which includes residents 65 and older or with certain health conditions.

The next group of eligible Missourians, or Phase 1B Tier 3, includes K-12 educators, school employees, child care workers, grocery store workers, and employees in energy, food, transportation and agriculture sectors, among others. Last week, Gov. Mike Parson announced that Phase 1B Tier 3 would become eligible on March 15.

Jacob Long, spokesman for St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, said that while vaccine supply has improved, there are still tens of thousands of eligible city residents who haven’t been vaccinated yet. When the next group becomes eligible on March 15, the city will likely still be vaccinating people in the previous group.

“We know that we have not gotten to all of our seniors, and all of our adults with underlying health conditions,” Long said.

Christopher Ave, director of communications for the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, said Wednesday that the county plans to begin vaccinating residents in Phase 1B Tier 3 soon after that group becomes eligible on March 15, though he said he couldn’t say exactly when.

During a briefing Wednesday morning, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said the health department administered 9,000 doses in seven days, bringing its cumulative total to 30,000.

State data shows St. Louis County is inoculating residents at a far slower pace than that of the Metro East. St. Louis County is delivering 520 doses per capita per day, while Madison and St. Clair are at rates approaching 900.

The department received 2,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Tuesday, along with 3,000 Moderna vaccine doses. It will administer the Johnson & Johnson doses at a mass vaccination event held with the Missouri National Guard Saturday at the North County Recreation Center. Appointments are required.

Missouri reported 387 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, up from 266 the day before. The seven-day average of new daily cases fell to 388, the lowest level since late June, according to a Post-Dispatch analysis. Hospitalizations fell to 989, down from 1,025 the day before. Data lags three days, and not every hospital reports every day.

The state also reported 216 more deaths due to the virus, though most — more than 150 — occurred in January.

Missouri reported on Wednesday 892,695 people have received a first dose of vaccine, or 14.5% of the population, which ranks 45th nationally. That’s up from 869,424 the day before. Of those, 464,090 have received a second dose. All the Missouri counties in the metro St. Louis area have vaccination rates below the state average.

Illinois reported 2,104 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, up from 1,577 the day before. The state also reported 50 more deaths due to the virus.

Just 23 new COVID-19 patients were admitted to hospitals in the area, according to the task force, down from 30 the day before. BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke’s Hospital facilities tallied just 234 virus patients in total, down from 266 the day before. Task force data lags two days.

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