St. Louis County halts vaccines as shipments dry up from state

Parson defends distribution of doses to St. Louis region

A+paramedic+from+the+Fenton+Fire+Protection+District%2C+above%2C+gives+a+COVID-19+vaccine+shot+to+a+woman+in+the+community+room+at+the+Affton+Fire+Protection+District+headquarters+on+Gravois+Road+while+St.+Louis+County+Executive+Sam+Page+visited+Friday%2C+Feb.+12%2C+2021.+Most+of+the+shots+given+at+the+vaccination+sites+in+the+Mehlville%2C+Affton+and+Eureka+fire+protection+districts+halted+last+week%2C+but+the+fire+districts+used+remaining+vaccine+doses+to+vaccinate+residents+of+group+homes.

Photo by Erin Achenbach

A paramedic from the Fenton Fire Protection District, above, gives a COVID-19 vaccine shot to a woman in the community room at the Affton Fire Protection District headquarters on Gravois Road while St. Louis County Executive Sam Page visited Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. Most of the shots given at the vaccination sites in the Mehlville, Affton and Eureka fire protection districts halted last week, but the fire districts used remaining vaccine doses to vaccinate residents of group homes.

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

St. Louis County officials paused COVID-19 vaccine efforts last week due to a lack of vaccine supply from the state, despite the county kicking off mass vaccine efforts by opening four vaccine sites and giving out more than 5,000 shots the previous week.

County officials said the county is “well-equipped to provide vaccines to at least 5,000 people per week” and would be able to continue giving shots if the state sent the doses.

Separately, the commander of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force said that the St. Louis region was being shortchanged by roughly half the doses it should be receiving proportionate to its population in the state. Gov. Mike Parson disputed that and said Dr. Alex Garza of SSM Health was spreading “fear” and “panic.”

But the day after Garza complained, the state doubled the doses it is sending to the area, ramping up the supply available this week.

County officials said pausing will cut off “broad community access” to the shots: Close to 300,000 people have registered for vaccines on the county’s preregistration list. A state consultant identified St. Louis as a “vaccine desert” Feb. 4 along with Kansas City, as rural areas are seeing more public access to the vaccine.

The county Department of Public Health is saving doses for scheduled second doses. Despite the state publicly announcing it would provide weekly supplies of the vaccine starting that week, for three weeks in a row the county received no doses from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

The county reached an agreement Feb. 8 for local hospital groups to provide 1,950 doses for the public, and the 5,000 doses given out the week of Feb. 1 also came from local hospitals rather than the state.

“St. Louis County continues to be uncertain when and whether it will receive vaccine doses,” said County Executive Sam Page in a news release. “This makes it incredibly difficult to plan a distribution network and effectively communicate with those who have signed up and are anxiously awaiting an appointment.”

“More importantly,” added Page, “it puts at further risk the population DPH serves, including people who are uninsured or underinsured, people who do not have a primary care physician, and others who are uniquely at-risk and vulnerable to COVID-19. Many of the people who need the vaccine the most simply will not have access to the vaccine.”

The 5,000 doses given Feb. 1-5 doubled the number of people vaccinated from the 2,500 vaccinated the previous week.

The county contends that the state promised vaccines for last week, even sending a copy of a shipping confirmation, and then said the vaccines weren’t being sent.

The county provided this timeline of events over the past few weeks:

• No doses were sent Feb. 1, but the state and the Missouri Hospital Association issued a press release stating that the county would receive at least 5,000 doses for that week and the next two.

• The state announced to KSDK Feb. 3 that St. Louis County “will be receiving 9,500 doses weekly.” DHSS sent a shipping confirmation Feb. 4 stating that DHSS had shipped 3,900 doses of vaccine.

• DHSS informed St. Louis County Feb. 5 it would not receive the 3,900 doses it had previously said it had shipped. On Feb. 8, DHSS again declined to send any vaccine to St. Louis County for the week of Feb. 8.

The Call reached out to Parson’s office, but did not get a response. In a statement, Parson said, “Some want to push the narrative that we are not adequately supporting vaccine efforts for our urban populations, specifically in the St. Louis and Kansas City regions, but that is simply not true. Our targeted vaccination teams are working tirelessly to support critical populations, and high throughput metro hospitals are receiving shipments of Missouri’s allotted vaccine doses that reflect the large regional populations they serve.”