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Governor disputes complaints about St. Louis vaccine doses

By MARGARET STAFFORD Associated Press
Associated Press

LIBERTY — An irritated Gov. Mike Parson on Thursday defended the state's distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and accused St. Louis area health officials of misleading residents about the number of vaccines that are available.

The governor's remarks came after St. Louis County health officials earlier this week complained that a region that includes St. Louis County, St. Louis and 10 other eastern Missouri counties was not getting enough vaccine in respect to is population. 

They said the area, called Region C, has 37% of the state's population but only 15,600 vaccines have been allocated to the region's health care system — 17% of the vaccines allocated by the federal government.

The governor said those 15,600 doses were sent every week to four hospitals that partnered with the St. Louis County Health Department to distribute the vaccines, and were proportionate to the region's population. 

He noted the region was receiving vaccines from other programs, such as for long-term care facilities and vaccination at pharmacies, meaning the idea that the region was getting only 15,600 doses was "absolutely false."

The state recently learned that 50,000 first and second doses of the vaccines have not been reported as being administered in the region, prompting the state to decide to send 3,000 initial doses directly to the St. Louis County Health department, starting next week, he said.

Parson specifically criticized Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Pandemic Task Force, who he said has "cherry-picked" data to push the idea that the St. Louis region was not being treated fairly. 

"He has led with fear and panic rather than a sense of balance, and completely ignores the diverse populations of our state and our local communities across this state," Parson said.

A statement from the task force did not address Parson's comments about Garza but said the most important thing is to get as many people vaccinated as "quickly, safely and equitably" as possible.

"We are confident in the way we estimate the number of doses received by Region C, and our goal has always been to ensure fair and equitable distribution of vaccine with all of our partners." the statement said. "We will continue to work with the State of Missouri and our regional partners as we have throughout the pandemic, to care for our community and increase access to the COVID-19 vaccine."

The limited supply of vaccine being provided by the federal government is the main obstacle because demand is far exceeding supply in every part of the state, Parson said. But he dismissed any suggestion that St. Louis and Kansas City are not being treated as well a rural areas of the state. 

"The idea that because I come from rural Missouri and there is some magical divide, that I am taking care of rural Missouri more than I am urban areas is totally false," he said. "Each region of this state will be treated equally. We are all Missourians in this battle against Covid-19."

State health officials reported Thursday the state has confirmed 469,223 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, an increase of 1,034 from the previous day. The state also reported 7,431 deaths, an increase of 287.

Health department spokeswoman Lisa Cox said the jump in deaths came after a weekly review of death certificates. Most of the 287 deaths had not already been reported to the state by another entity. Of the deaths, one occurred in May, one in July, one in August, one in October, seven in November, 102 in December, 162 in January and 12 in February.