Missouri officials say they are working to ensure equity in vaccine distribution


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – With people across Missouri asking where they can get the COVID vaccine, trying to get an appointment for a shot can be equivalent to winning the lottery in some regions. But the state’s vaccine distribution team says it’s working on equity when it comes to distribution.

Members of Missouri’s vaccination distribution team said Wednesday the state will be receiving nearly 10,000 more doses of the Moderna vaccine this week.

Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) Director Dr. Randall Williams said Operation Warp Speed is hopeful on the approval of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

“General Perna was very optimistic that in April and in May, and certainly by June, that we will have a very ample supply of vaccine, including on the front end with the J&J,” Williams said.

Gov. Mike Parson’s Deputy Chief of Staff Robert Knodell said the state could soon see more pharmacies administering the vaccine.

“We understand that would be a phase in and that additional locations within those chains and additional pharmacy chains themselves will be added to that as time goes along,” Knodell said.

Next week, federal qualified health centers will be receiving a dedicated allotment of vaccine next week to reach vulnerable populations and medically underserved communities, Knodell said.

“So, we will see an increase of our Moderna allocation into our state this week,” he said. “We will be receiving close to 60,000.”

Earlier this week, the state announced some pharmacies in Missouri are partnering with the federal government to vaccinate those in rural areas. Starting Friday, 81 Walmart’s and Sam’s Club pharmacies will be able to vaccinate Missourians.

“We’ve set a clear expectation that first dose be administered within seven days of being received by a vaccinator and we also have the expectation the second doses will be administered as quickly as possible to the date that is recommended by the CDC,” DHSS Director of Community and Public Health Adam Crumbliss said.

According to the CDC, people should receive the second dose of Pfizer 21 days after their first dose, and 28 days after their first dose of Moderna.

“We become concerned when a vaccinator or region has not been reporting or administering those vaccines in a timely fashion and we are very aggressive in making sure that those shots get into arms as quickly as possible,” Knodell said.

Some communities are calling themselves a vaccine desert, but the state’s vaccination team thinks differently.

“We see that some of our communities are on the low end of our data, but they have been on the high end previous weeks and then vice versa, as we continue to move forward in the coming weeks,” Crumbliss said.

Crumbliss said that the numbers will eventually even out, but one of the reasons it might look uneven to the different regions in the metro areas received most of the doses at the beginning.

“When you look at the vaccine distribution process across Missouri, about the first five weeks, we really spent an intensive amount of time focused on distributing specifically to the top 50 health care systems in the state,” Crumbliss said. “Our commitment and our expectation is that we will continue to achieve regional balance.”

Last week, the state started a partnership with selected hospitals across the state for a throughput distribution plan. Under this plan, the state gives 53 percent of its allotment to the hospitals. Some hospitals have the capacity to give 5,000 doses a week. This week, 25 hospitals across the state will give 40,000 doses and Crumbliss said it’s up to those hospitals to re-locate doses of the vaccine.

“The high throughput health care systems have the ability to do at least 5,000 vaccinations a week,” Crumbliss said. “We also expect those same high throughput health care system to work with other partners in the community. We do think there is cooperation that could be had and should be had, not just from the standpoint of talking about how to design a system, but we do think that they need to be redistributing those doses.”

Knodell also mentioned some mass vaccination sites being held by the Missouri National Guard and local health departments, are postponed this week due to weather.

“We’re experiencing winter weather across the state this week,” Knodell said. “Our National Guard mass vaccination teams tell us it’s very difficult to thaw frozen vaccine at an outdoor event when the temperature is 5 degrees.”

Williams said if the supply remains consistent, with the approval of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, Missouri could be vaccinating Tier 3, which includes the education system, by March.

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