General public can sign up for priority list for St. Louis County’s COVID-19 vaccines

A+nurse+at+Mercy+Hospital+South+prepares+the+first+dose+of+Pfizer%2FBioNTech%27s+COVID-19+vaccine+for+Mercy%27s+Chief+Medical+officer+Aamina+Akhtar+Monday%2C+Dec.+14%2C+2020.+Mercy+South+planned+to+vaccinate+20+nurses+on+Dec.+14+and+another+20+nurses+on+Dec.+15.+

Photo by Erin Achenbach

A nurse at Mercy Hospital South prepares the first dose of Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for Mercy’s Chief Medical officer Aamina Akhtar Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. Mercy South planned to vaccinate 20 nurses on Dec. 14 and another 20 nurses on Dec. 15.

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

St. Louis County’s COVID-19 vaccines are not yet available to the public, but you can register now to receive one when they are. 

The St. Louis County Department of Public Health received a shipment of 975 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine Jan. 5. Those vaccines are all reserved for health-care workers, as required by the Centers for Disease Control and the state of Missouri, which is overseeing vaccine distribution. 

The 975 doses of the vaccine delivered in 195 vials last week have either been given out or placed in cold storage at a secure DPH facility. 

The county said it is not sure when it will receive more vaccines and asked for patience because the “process of mass vaccinations is new. … Patience is essential. This process is dependent on the supply chain, which is managed by the state.”

Health-care workers are prioritized

The county has roughly 275 clinical workers who are county employees and are eligible to be vaccinated. Of those, 180 county workers, or 65 percent, had been vaccinated as of Monday morning, after vaccinations started Friday in North County. Vaccinations will continue this week to inoculate the county health-care staff. 

The current pace is scheduling 100 vaccinations a day, a pace that began Monday and will continue through Thursday. On Friday, the county will ramp that up to 320 1A health-care workers. 

Any health-care workers that fit into what is being called the “1A” tier and is not part of one of the region’s major health-care systems can sign up to get the vaccine at stlcorona.com or directly at http://ow.ly/zJGN50D1yu7 or by emailing dphcovidvaccine@stlouisco.com. DPH will be providing additional vaccinations to 1a workers across the county until notified by the state to proceed to the next category. Workers for the major health systems, however, will be vaccinated through their hospitals. 

General public can sign up

Although vaccinating health-care workers is the county’s priority right now, members of the general public have found that they can sign up through the link provided for health-care workers and get on a list of those who want the vaccine when it is available. 

Those who sign up who aren’t in the 1A tier will be notified when the county reaches the category they are in and when the county has vaccine for that category, a health department spokeswoman confirmed to The Call. The vaccine is free to all. 

But so far, the vaccine is not available to the general public in St. Louis County. Until it is, the county is urging everyone to abide by the current stay-at-home advisory that extends indefinitely, wash your hands, socially distance and, in a new recommendation, “push back against misinformation.”

It might be awhile to wait, however. Along with every other state, Missouri has received far fewer doses than expected.

For those on the Illinois side of the river, it might be possible to get the vaccine sooner: Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that he would move to Phase 1B this week and allow local health departments to start vaccinating anyone in that group. Illinois has also lowered the eligibility age for 1B to 65 years or older. 

Tiers explained

The tiers released by Missouri differ from federal guidelines in one way: Tier 1B, the next tier after health-care workers, will be available to people age 65 and up rather than starting at age 75 as the CDC recommends. 

The 1A tier includes a few other types of workers other than doctors and nurses in hospitals. Other examples the county gave of 1A workers who could receive the vaccine include school nurses, dentists, behavioral health and substance use providers, optometrists and physical therapists. 

Long-term care facilities’ residents and staff are also in the 1A tier, but their vaccinations are being conducted through pharmacies. 

But people over 65, no matter their health status, will be able to receive the vaccine when it opens up to 1B since older people are dying at greater numbers from the virus than younger people.  The AARP said it is lobbying states to prioritize the vaccine for the elderly population.

Other people who will be eligible under 1B include those with high risk factors who are ages 18 to 64, first responders and essential workers like teachers and daycare workers. The full list provided by the state on who qualifies as an essential worker is: first responders, childcare workers, teachers and education staff, water/wastewater workers, energy workers, critical manufacturing workers and food/agriculture workers. 

Next will be Phase 2, which will be “populations at increased risk,” although the state said it is still working on defining that. Phase 3 will include all Missouri residents. 

The definition of “high risk” includes problems such as a body mass index of more than 30, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, hypertension and chronic heart disease.