COVID Vaccine Arrives in Missouri: 'It's a Historic Day'

click to enlarge Nurse Greg Newsham was the first employee at Mercy Hospital St. Louis to get the vaccine. - COURTESY OF MERCY
Nurse Greg Newsham was the first employee at Mercy Hospital St. Louis to get the vaccine.

Dozens of health-care workers were injected today with the first COVID-19 vaccines to arrive in Missouri, a turning point in a nine-month battle against the virus.

"Today is a historic and important day for our country," Dr. Alex Garza, incident commander of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said during a briefing.

More than 4,700 people in Missouri and 300,000 across the United States have died of the coronavirus since March. Deaths are expected to continue nationwide at a monstrous clip for the next two or three months, even as the rollout of vaccines begins, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Garza said that everyone working to battle the pandemic has spent the past nine months playing defense against the virus. He warned that we're still a long way from vaccinating enough people to reach herd immunity but said the beginning of vaccinations signals a change.

"Today, with the vaccine arriving, we can finally go on the offensive," he said.

The first people to get the vaccine were at Mercy, which was the first of the four major health-care systems in the St. Louis metropolitan area to receive its shipment of vaccines. Mercy spokeswoman Bethany Pope said the health system expects to receive 24,000 through the week in its first allotment across its sites.

They started with twenty vaccinations at Mercy South. Another 72 people at Mercy Hospital St. Louis where registered nurse Greg Newsham was the first to receive the injection as part of the two-shot process. More were expected to get the vaccine tomorrow and a full schedule starting Wednesday, going from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.

click to enlarge Anesthesiology Assistant Brian Ho receives the vaccine at Mercy Hospital St. Louis. - COURTESY OF MERCY
Anesthesiology Assistant Brian Ho receives the vaccine at Mercy Hospital St. Louis.

Other sites are expected to receive shipments in the coming days. SSM Health is expected to receive 9,700 vaccines by early next week, and 30,000 should be available for St. Louis health-care workers by Christmas, spokeswoman Stephanie Zoller Mueller said in an email.

Missouri will have 21 vaccination sites at hospitals and health care facilities across the state, and Gov. Mike Parson said in a news release that shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines will continue to reach the sites through the week.

Parson, who caught the virus and has recovered, has rejected repeated pleas of health-care experts to impose basic health orders, such as a mask mandate, which studies have shown have been successful in slowing the spread. In announcing the first shipments of the vaccine, he continued to ask people to voluntarily follow safety guidelines.

"We must stay diligent in our efforts and continue to practice COVID-19 preventive measures," he said.

Garza, who is one of those health-care workers who has repeatedly asked for a mask mandate, said that it is crucial that no one lets up on any of the practices that are necessary to slow the virus.

"If you stop fighting while the enemy is still empowered, you're going to lose a lot of people," he said. "You will lose more people than necessary."

Health-care workers are in the first group scheduled to get the injections. The state's plan includes essential workers and high-risk populations in the first phase of the vaccine rollout.

Correction: Greg Newsham and Brian Ho work at Mercy Hospital St. Louis. Their hospital was incorrect in the original article. We regret the error.

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