Missouri Moving to Next Phase of Vaccine Rollout, Includes 65-Year-Olds

This story was originally published by the Missouri Independent.

First responders and emergency medical services can receive their initial dose of a coronavirus vaccine, with Missourians 65 years and older and those with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk eligible to receive their first doses Monday.

Missouri state health officials activated the next tiers of “Phase 1B” residents in light of an expected increase in vaccine supply following the Trump administration’s announcement that second doses would not be withheld. Randall Williams, the director of the state health department, issued an order Thursday outlining the phases’ specifics.

The state has emphasized prioritizing residents that are most at-risk. The first two tiers alone will be approximately 2.7 million residents as the state continues to work through healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents and staff included in the first wave of vaccinations.

Members of the state’s vaccine distribution and planning team said Thursday that an estimated 35 to 40 percent of Phase 1A has received their first dose, with about 18 percent of long-term care facilities residents and staff receiving that initial shot.

“Beginning the activation of Phase 1B is all about saving lives and protecting those most vulnerable to exposure and illness from this virus,” Gov. Mike Parson said in a statement.

The second phase of eligible residents, “Phase 1B,” will be divided into three tiers.

The first, which begins Thursday, includes non-patient facing healthcare workers, first responders, emergency management and public works employees and emergency services workers, like law enforcement and firefighters.

Tier two, which begins Monday and is an estimated 40 percent of the state’s total population, will include anyone aged 65 years and older and adults with certain comorbidities that put them at higher-risk, including cancer, heart conditions, Type 2 diabetes, and more.

The third tier of Phase 1B will include a wide swath of groups, including teachers and staff, childcare employees, certain elected officials, and employees in critical sectors like energy and transportation. There is no set start date for the third tier, officials said.

When a phase or tier is activated, any employee within that sector or organization will be eligible to receive their first dose, officials said. For example, when tier three of Phase 1B is activated, everyone from teachers to bus drivers or custodians would be eligible to receive a vaccine within the education sector.

The state’s plan will not distinguish between an “essential” versus “nonessential” employee within an organization as employers weigh which workers to vaccinate first.

Before Thursday, vaccinations were limited to frontline healthcare workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. Those residents within “Phase 1A” are still able to receive vaccines as additional phases are opened up.

Missourians will attest to their eligibility through a screening form as part of the registration process, members of the state’s vaccine distribution and planning team said. Residents are asked to be truthful when indicating their eligibility.

Residents will be able to access the vaccine through a variety of avenues, such as through their employer, by scheduling an appointment with a provider directly or through vaccination events similar to COVID-testing sites held throughout the pandemic.

It’s recommended individuals who fall within Phase 1A and the first tier of Phase 1B work through their employer to receive the vaccine. Meanwhile, those in tier two of Phase 1B should contact their local pharmacy or healthcare provider or check the state’s vaccine website at MOStopsCOVID.com, where a list of vaccinators will be posted Friday.

The state also plans to make available dashboards that provide greater detail as to how many doses have been administered and where.

“We know one of the most common questions among Missourians right now is when it will be their turn to be vaccinated, and we are greatly encouraged by the interest in the vaccines from the public,” Williams said in a statement.

While additional residents are now eligible, members of the state’s vaccine distribution and planning team stressed that there currently is not enough vaccine to cover everyone that falls within those groups.

Following the three tiers within Phase 1B, Phase 2 will be launched, which includes areas like higher education and populations disproportionately affected or at increased risk of contracting the virus, like minority groups and people who are homeless. Phase 3 will include all remaining residents who are unvaccinated.

Currently, there is no set start date or threshold for when those next phases will be activated, as officials said it will be dependent on vaccine supply.

As of Thursday morning, about 528,300 doses had been distributed to the state with about 175,314 residents receiving their first dose, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thursday morning, Parson tweeted that over 190,400 doses had been administered throughout the state.

However, members of the state’s vaccine distribution and planning team said the hope is that by defining which groups fall into which phases, industries can begin to prepare for the vaccine’s arrival.

“The more supply we receive, the quicker we can reach our goal of making vaccines available to every Missourians who wants one,” Parson said in a statement.

Organizations that would like to request the tier they fall into be adjusted will be able to submit requests to the state through its vaccine website.
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