Missouri National Guard opens first mass COVID-19 vaccine center

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POPLAR BLUFF, MO. – The first mass vaccination site in Missouri opened Friday, vaccinating nearly 2,000 people with the help of the Missouri National Guard.

Gov. Mike Parson’s office told Fox 2’s Missouri Chief Capitol Bureau Reporter Emily Manley Friday the state is increasing the number of mass vaccination sites the Guard will be operating. There will now be three sites in each of the nine Missouri State Highway Patrol regions. That brings the total to 27 sites.

More than 1,000 cases lined up in the parking lot of an old water park in Poplar Bluff Friday to be a part of the first mass vaccination in the state. People were excited and anxious as they waited in line, some waiting for more than three hours to get the vaccine.

Col. Russell Kohl with the Missouri National Guard said there were 11 agencies and 30 Guard members working together at the site.

“When I arrived this morning, there were 48 cars in line, so when I spoke to the first one, they arrived at 5:45 this morning,” Kohl said. “There were three cars per lane and were actually able to up that and so now we know what we’re actually able to accomplish, we’re running six to seven cars per lane and we’re actually able to double what the capacity was based on the plans.”

Earlier this week, Parson called the vaccination site in southeast Missouri a “test run” before opening the other sites across the state.

“What you will see next Friday is this same sort of even happening across all the highway patrol regions in the state,” Kohl said.

Parson’s office said Friday they plan to release the locations of the other sites early next week with the hopes of opening them by the end of the month.

Kohl said the site in Poplar Bluff administered the Pfizer vaccine. After people received the vaccine, they waited in their cars for 15 minutes, being monitored by health National Guard members and healthcare workers.

“The doses that are allocated for the mass vaccination teams are allocated to the local health department,” Kohl said. “Each of the highway patrol regions has what is called an implementation.”

The Butler County Health Department said they had allocated 1,950 for Friday’s event.

“At this point, the driving factor is the availability of vaccine from the federal government as those doses are available, we are able to move forward,” Kohl said. “These events can move from singly day to multiple days as the community needs them and as the doses are available.”

The event in Poplar Bluff was only one day, but the team will return in 21 days to set up another mass vaccination site so people who received their first vaccine Friday can receive their second shot.

“At this point, we are currently limited to one day in each site simply due to the availability of the vaccine,” Kohl said.

Parson said Wednesday the Guard hopes in vaccinate 2,500 people a day at the sites.

86-year-old Ada Bennett from Wayne County said she waited two hours in line waiting for her vaccine, and it was worth it.

“I don’t want to go on a respirator or in a hospital when I’m 86-years-old, I don’t think so,” Ada said.

Besides the sites around the state, there will also be targeted teams in Kansas City and St. Louis to work with clergy to help vaccinate the most venerable. Russell said those be teams of four guard members and hope they can get to work next week.

When asked what the challenges of the first mass vaccination site were, Kohl said traffic control.

“Anytime you have this many agencies that are trying to interact and including volunteers and you’re dependent on the public following a process that hasn’t ever existed before for them, there are always logistical challenges,” Kohl said.

People who were vaccinated Friday had to preregister for the event and that will be a must for other locations as well.

“The online registration and scheduling program is really going to be critical in the streamlining this process, so folks know when they can get their vaccinations,” Kohl said.

Bennett said the quick prick was worth keeping her safe.

“It was no sweat,” Bennett said laughing.

As soon as the state announces the locations and dates for the rest of the vaccination sites, we will pass it along.

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