South County vaccine sites open, but St. Louis is a ‘vaccine desert’

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Photo by Erin Achenbach

Eligible St. Louis County employees receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at St. Louis County’s mass vaccination site at the Florissant Valley campus of St. Louis Community College Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. The mass vaccination site in Ferguson has been operating since Jan. 29, vaccinating qualified county employees ahead of the public starting Wednesday, Feb. 3.

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

The St. Louis County Department of Public Health opened two vaccine sites in South County and one in Eureka last week, along with a mass vaccination site that opened in Ferguson.

But demand still far exceeds the supply of vaccines, as the state has concentrated on distributing doses and opening mass vaccination sites in rural counties instead of urban areas, leading to a state consultant calling St. Louis and Kansas City “vaccine deserts.”

St. Louis County is collaborating with three regional fire/EMS districts to provide additional vaccine center locations on top of two originally announced in North County.

Appointments for vaccines at Mehlville, Affton and Eureka fire districts began Feb. 4 from the county’s preregistration list. No vaccines will be given to walk-ups, and do not call the firehouses.

The county said it is still working with more fire/EMS partners to set up additional local sites around the county.

The county received 3,900 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Feb. 2 not from the state but from one of its local hospital partners, allowing the county to open the mass vaccination site in Ferguson and begin offering shots in the three fire districts.

DPH will send invitations to currently preregistered individuals to schedule with the county, and all five sites will be available to select an appointment.

The Mehlville Fire Protection District vaccine site will be located at the No. 7 Firehouse, 5501 Old Lemay Ferry Road, 63129. The Affton Fire Protection District’s vaccine site will be at its headquarters at 9282 Gravois Road. The county is discouraging anyone from showing up who does not have an appointment but hopes to get a vaccine anyway. The Affton fire district gave out 650 vaccines over three days to mostly first responders before the site opened to the public, Chief Nick Fahs noted.

The other locations where vaccines are being given out are  St. Louis Community College’s Florissant Valley campus at 3400 Pershall Road, and the John C. Murphy Health Center, 6121 N. Hanley Road in Berkeley. Due to freezer space and logistics, vaccines are not currently being offered at the South County Health Center.

The county gave out 5,000 vaccines at the sites, doubling the total from the week before. More appointments will be available if the department receives more vaccines.

But demand is far exceeding supply, since more than 300,000 residents have signed up to the county’s list.

The county has requested vaccines the last two weeks from the state but has not been given any. In the absence of those shipments the county plans to continue working with hospital systems to expand the county’s vaccine reach.

For more information and to register for vaccination, visit http://www.stlcorona.com, call 314-615-2660 if you do not have internet or send an email to the county at dphcovidvaccine@stlouisco.com.

“This is an important moment in our response to this pandemic and I’m thrilled we are able to provide greater access to this life-saving vaccine,” said County Executive  Sam Page in a news release. “I appreciate this partnership with one of our hospital systems, which allows us to get vaccines into arms across the county as quickly as possible.”

St. Louis identified as a ‘vaccine desert’

The state’s first shipments of vaccine in January sent just 975 doses to health departments, regardless of how many people were waiting on a county’s list. The first two weeks of state-run mass vaccination sites were all located in rural Missouri, an hour or more from larger cities. That led to some St. Louis-area residents calling around to rural counties and driving hours to get vaccines sooner.

The state’s consultants on the vaccine rollout confirmed the impresssion of a disparity last week, outlining on a conference call how the state’s “vaccine deserts” are concentrated in St. Louis and Kansas City, especially North St. Louis and city centers. Those vaccine deserts are growing despite shrinking for the rest of the state as more providers begin administering the vaccine, Andrew Miller of Deloitte Consulting said Feb. 4, as reported by the Missouri Independent. Deloitte has been paid $600,000 so far in 2021 for advising on the state’s vaccine rollout.

Deloitte’s analysis, based on data from Jan. 18, suggests a growing inequity in vaccine access within North St. Louis and the St. Louis city center as well as the Interstate 435 corridor in Kansas City.

Those areas have become “much more of a have and have-not type of situation where there’s a vast dichotomy between access and no access,” Miller said.

The analysis divided the state into four categories, ranging from least to most access to the vaccine: vaccine deserts, deserts with access, vaccine abundance and vaccine hubs. South County ranged from a vaccine hub around Mercy Hospital South to vaccine deserts in Affton and Lemay and vaccine abundance or hub in Oakville, Crestwood and Sunset Hills.