Parson: Teacher vaccinations can begin March 15
O'FALLON — Missouri teachers and child care providers will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccination in mid-March, Gov. Mike Parson said Thursday.
Parson said during his weekly media briefing that the state plans to open up vaccinations to those in Phase 1B, Tier 3, effective March 15. That group involves an estimated 550,000 additional residents. The new date is about a month earlier than state leaders originally projected.
In addition to teachers and child care workers, those newly eligible will include school staff, water and waste employees, energy workers, critical manufacturing workers, and food and agricultural workers.
"While supply is still limited, we are expecting slow and steady increases, and activating Tier 3 on March 15 will allow us to continue making progress as supply expands," the Republican governor said.
Teachers have been urging the state to move them up on the vaccination priority list, as many other states have done. Seven of the eight states adjacent to Missouri already are vaccinating teachers.
Most Missouri schools are open for in-person learning even though teachers are not yet being vaccinated. Information from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education shows that 463 of Missouri's 557 school districts are operating onsite, though 252 of those offer online options. Sixty-nine districts are using hybrid models and 25 are online only.
The Education Roundtable, which represents eight education organizations in Missouri, lauded the governor's announcement.
"Getting educators vaccinated as soon as possible is an important step toward keeping educators in the classroom and providing our students with in-person instruction," the group's chairman, Doug Hayter, said in a statement.
Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo said teachers should have been a priority "from the beginning." Rizzo, a Democrat from Independence, also cited a need to direct more vaccine to densely populated areas like St. Louis and Kansas City.
Parson said urban areas are getting their proportional share.
"There is no division between rural and urban Missouri," he said. "That needs to stop."
Missouri's vaccination effort will get a boost if the Food and Drug Administration gives approval for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. A decision is expected soon.
Speaking Thursday during a meeting of Missouri's vaccine advisory committee, Division of Community and Public Health Director Adam Crumbliss said the state currently administers about 120,000 weekly vaccines.
"I would hope to see us get over that 150,000 threshold with Johnson & Johnson coming online," Crumbliss said.
The new vaccine requires just one shot, while the others require two. Crumbliss said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be especially helpful for "more transient and less visible" people such as the homeless. It could also be useful at mass vaccination events operated by the Missouri National Guard, he said.
Statewide data indicates 12.3% of Missourians have received at least one vaccine dose, a percentage thank ranks in the bottom 10 of all states.
The state health department on Thursday cited 727 newly confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and eight new deaths. The state has reported 477,078 confirmed cases and 7,902 deaths since the pandemic began.
Associated Press reporters David A. Lieb and Summer Ballentine in Jefferson City, Missouri, contributed to this report.