St. Louis County partnering with SSM Health to vaccinate first responders


By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force and St. Louis County are collaborating with SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to as many as 4,000 area first responders.

Under the agreement, first responders in the St. Louis County area – including St. Louis County police and fire personnel as well as county-based federal law enforcement employees – started receiving vaccinations at the hospital Monday morning.

The partnership could vaccinate up to 4,000 first responders, a St. Louis County Department of Public Health spokeswoman said Monday. More than 650 first responders had already made appointments by the time the partnership was announced Wednesday, filling the first three days in the schedule.

SSM Health is providing the vaccine and medical personnel to administer it. The agreement will allow a “dramatic increase in the speed and pace of first-responder vaccinations, given DPH’s limited supply of vaccine,” the health department said.

As of Tuesday, SSM Health has given 30,000 doses of the vaccine, counting both the first and second shots, spokeswoman Stephanie Zoeller Mueller said. That includes hundreds of school nurses. Last week 6,500 SSM patients were vaccinated with their first dose. So far, the hospital system is vaccinating those 75 years and older, and have not moved on to 65 and older.

“We continue building partnerships to get vaccines into arms as quickly as possible, and we thank SSM Health for stepping up to help get our first responders vaccinated,” St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said in the announcement. “We will have other partnerships to announce within the coming days.”

Most of the first responders vaccinated or scheduled to be vaccinated are in law enforcement, the county spokeswoman said Monday.

Among the departments invited to participate are the St. Louis County Police Department, all municipal police and fire departments in the county and federal agencies based in the region, including the FBI and Homeland Security.

The county has also been vaccinating first responders since Thursday at the Affton Fire Protection District headquarters on Gravois Road, a practice run for the fire district opening as one of the five official vaccination sites Thursday, Feb. 4.

While the city of St. Louis is taking the lead on vaccinating that city’s first responders, the opportunity to get vaccinated at SLU Hospital is open to them as well.

Under guidelines mandated by the state of Missouri, first responders are in the Phase 1B Tier 1 category.

Although Gov. Mike Parson announced three weeks ago that first responders and those over age 65 would be eligible for the vaccine, supply has been limited and Missouri has ranked 50th for vaccine distribution.  First responders are a tier above those over age 65.

SSM Health initially requested 9,700 doses of the vaccine in December. To distribute those, the hospital system used a tiered system recommended by the Centers for Disease Control that placed frontline, at-risk health care workers first in line for the shot. SSM employees are not required to get the vaccine.

The St. Louis County Department of Public Health vaccinated roughly 330 of the county’s first responders the weekend of Jan. 23-24 with its own vaccines, which have been limited from the state. Since then, additional vaccinations have been given to first responders, for a total of 750 first responders vaccinated from the county’s supply as of Monday.

“First responder vaccines have been one of St. Louis County’s biggest priorities,” Michele Ryan, director of the St. Louis County Police Department’s Office of Emergency Management, said in a news release. “This agreement allows our DPH staff to focus on the other tiers in phase 1. We are extremely grateful for the partnership with SSM Health and SLUH to allow all of our area first responders be vaccinated in an expedited manner. Keeping our first responder infrastructure healthy is a great step in protecting those many citizens that they come in contact with daily.”

Spring Schmidt, acting co-director of DPH, said the county has always prioritized police and other first responders, but that the supply of vaccine from the state has limited DPH’s ability to quickly vaccinate them.

“We are thrilled and thankful that SSM Health and the task force has worked with us to provide such quick service to our first responders,” she said in the release. “Vaccinating first responders offers protection for the entire community.”