SEDALIA, Mo. – In the push to get Missourians vaccinated against COVID-19, a surprising fact from Missouri State Fair organizers, which offered free vaccines this year to attendees.
After taking a different route last year because of the pandemic, the fair was back to normal in 2021 with concerts and a carnival. At the fairgrounds, attendees could find COVID tests and vaccinates, but of the more than 300,000 that came out to the fair in Sedalia, fewer than 0.02% of fairgoers rolled up their sleeves.
“We really didn’t know how people were going to take getting vaccinated at the fair,” Pettis County Health Center Administrator JoAnn Martin said. “Maybe people aren’t really sure they want to get vaccinated and then go ride rides.”
Pettis County Health Center, along with Katy Trail Community Health and Bothwell Regional Health Center, offered the vaccines 10 out of the 11 days at the Missouri State Fair. Martin said they were requested by the State Fair Commission to provide vaccines.
“We gave a total of 53 vaccines at the state fair and, obviously, we would have like to give many, many more,” Martin said. “We were very happy that we were able to provide vaccines for 53 people.”
Director of the Missouri State Fair Mark Wolfe said attendance numbers are still being counted, but expects it to be in the ballpark of 335,000.
“Everybody thought we were going to have record-setting crowds and then the COVID thing came back and you started to hear more and more about that,” Wolfe said. “I’m sure that affected the final outcome.”
While attendance numbers might not beat previous years, Wolfe said the carnival set record number sales.
“Not only did they beat it, but they blew it out of the water,” Wolfe said. “The first time we’ve ever been over a million dollars in ride gross here in Missouri.”
Masks were also offered on the fairgrounds.
“I would have to tell you, I don’t think the response to that was real high,” Wolfe said. “I did see folks with masks on but most of the folks did not.”
Fairgoers could find hand sanitizing stations outside of nearly every building and barn this year. Wolfe said that will be making a comeback for years to come.
“Having the opportunity for folks to clean their hands more is probably not a bad thing, and you know we had that system in place,” Wolfe said. “I wouldn’t know why we would go away from that. I think folks appreciate that.”
While only 53 people received a vaccine, Martin said people appreciated it being available.
“An individual that came in and said I’m so glad to see you because I was scheduled to get my second dose today and it’s three hours for me to drive home,” Martin said.
Martin said Katy Trail Community Health told patients when and where to get their second dose if needed, making it closer to their home. Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson vaccines were offered on the fairgrounds.
Pettis County reported 740 cases in August, the most the county has seen since December.
“It’s really hard to figure out exactly if we’ve had a big increase of cases related to the fair,” Martin said. “Unless people are asking a very specific question, were you at the Missouri State Fair, it’s difficult to get that information collected. It’s really hard to track this type of event because people come from all over the state, literally multiple states.
Martin said she was notified by another county about a cluster of cases within a group of people after attending the fair.
Vaccines were only offered from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. every day. Martin said that could be a reason why more people didn’t get vaccinated, but offer the service made it hard on all three health organizations.
“Most of us, that was after our regular work hours and so we would have a little more staff available,” Martin said. “We would have loved to do it every day, all day, but we wouldn’t want to over promise and under deliver.”
Wolfe said he was aware of vendors that felt the impact of COVID with not having enough staff or being able to order products.
“Overall, I think our vendor numbers were down a little bit in total,” Wolfe said. “We had some that as the fair approached and decided that I’m not ready to get in that bug of a crowd out there or we had some that had to back out simply because of staff that had some positive test and couldn’t come.”
He said was also concerned about the fair kicking off and in the middle of the 11 days, having to close the gates.
“I had concerns that we would get going and something would happen, and we would get stopped,” Wolfe said. “Fortunately, that didn’t happen. At the same time, everybody had a good attitude and I just think people were just really glad to be back to the fair as normal.”
Wolfe said there’s no total amount yet on what the fair brought in, but normally the Missouri State Fair averages $5 million.