JEFFERSON CITY, MO. — Nearly 53% of Missouri’s population is fully vaccinated, but the state health director said that doesn’t mean Missourians are across the finish line.
The state has administered more than 920,000 booster shots, but Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) Director Don Kauerauf said that’s not enough.
He’s concerned that if more people don’t get vaccinated with the holidays around the corner, Missouri will be in the same spot or yet, even worse than it was last year at this time.
“Maybe this is a time that we need to kind of need to reset as a state and as a nation,” Kauerauf said. “Maybe we got a little comfortable with COVID.”
Kauerauf encouraged people to get tested for COVID if they plan to travel or gather with family for the holidays, no matter if they’re vaccinated or not. He also said people should practice social distancing and wear a mask when they’re in a crowded place.
“The same precautions you should have taken last year, where we would recommend that, obviously, if you were ill, do not host a party, do not go to a party or a family thing,” he said.
Kauerauf said he believes too many people have become lax with the virus.
“I think people have forgotten some of the basic tools that are available,” Kauerauf said. “I think people are maybe lowering their guard a bit.”
In the past week, Missouri has reported more than 13,500 new COVID cases, with nearly 2,000 patients in hospitals. The Missouri Hospital Association (MHA) said during the peak of the pandemic, there were 3,000 hospitalized with COVID.
“Nothing has changed from last year, absolutely nothing,” Kauerauf said. “There’s still a threat of COVID circulating around Missouri.”
MHA said in an interview earlier this week, the Kansas City area and northern Missouri are feeling the brunt of the surge.
“We are closely tracking what’s going on in the Kansas City area where we’ve seen the most surge of cases and we’re able to provide some support to them to provide some monoclonal infusions.”
According to DHSS’s website, 52.9% of Missouri’s population is fully vaccinated, but Kauerauf said that number is deceiving.
“Some of those vaccinations might have been completed months ago, six, eight, nine, ten months ago,” Kauerauf said. “The important thing is now boosters are available, so I hate for us to kind of look at a number of milestones that is contingent upon people keeping current on their boosters.”
He said currently, data is showing boosters are the best protection against the omicron variant.
“That booster is needed to remain those high-level antibodies in your system to respond to the omicron variant,” Kauerauf said. “Your two vaccines don’t mean you crossed the finish line. There is going to be an annual process very similar to as we’ve done with influenza.”
In recent weeks, multiple local health departments have stopped COVID-19 related work, like contact tracing, following a court ruling that said health orders issued by local authorities are null and void.
“The core part of public health is disease surveillance,” Kauerauf said. “It’s important at the local level, at the state level, that we continue those core capacities. That’s what’s important going forward.”
For months, the state’s vaccination rate has been around 50% and with the future of the Omicron variant unknown, Kauerauf wants Missourians to roll up their sleeve.
“What we are going to do is citizens are going to get vaccinated, that’s how we get over the hump,” Kauerauf said “There’s no other way to say it, you go get vaccinated.”
When asked if the state plans to create another vaccine incentive program, he said, for now, it’s not off the table.
“We are considering everything, but it all comes down to the people following the science,” Kauerauf said. “Yes, we can do those incentive programs, but it’s just common sense, you need to get vaccinated.”