880,000 Missourians became eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccination

By JIM SALTER Associated Press

O'FALLON — An estimated 880,000 Missourians became eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccination Monday under Phase 2 of the state's vaccine rollout plan.

The new phase includes additional categories of essential workers, homeless people, faculty and staff at higher education institutions and "disproportionally affected populations" such as racial and ethnic minorities.

"With nearly 3.9 million adults now eligible in Missouri, we have come a long way since vaccines first arrived in Missouri," Republican Gov. Mike Parson said in a news release. 

Data from the state's COVID-19 dashboard shows that about 24.5% of Missourians have received at least one shot. Parson said 20,000 vaccine doses were administered in the St. Louis area last week through state-operated vaccination events.

But Missouri continues to trail most of the country in vaccinations given, ranking in the bottom 10 among states, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. The CDC says 28.2% of Americans have received at least an initial dose.

Parson announced Monday that an eight-week effort will begin April 7 with a goal of 168,000 vaccinations in the city of St. Louis, where vaccinations continue to lag well below the statewide average. About 16.8% of St. Louis residents have received an initial dose, according to the state dashboard.

Parson said the new program aims to vaccinate up to 3,000 people a day, seven days a week. All of the vaccinations will be administered at the Dome at America's Center in downtown St. Louis.

Missouri will move quickly to the final phase of its vaccination plan. Phase 3, in which all adults will be eligible, is scheduled to begin April 9.

As vaccination availability picks up, the state is turning more attention to convincing vaccine skeptics to get their shots. Parson's administration has estimated that about 40% of Missourians will refuse vaccination, a figure high enough to impede efforts to reach herd immunity. Health professionals say vaccine hesitancy is spurred by several factors, including worry about side effects and unfounded conspiracy theories.

The Kansas City Star reported that focus groups hosted by the Missouri Foundation for Health found that for Black and Hispanic adults, distrust around COVID-19 vaccines is "deeply embedded in structural inequities in government institutions and a result of a long and continuing history of racism in health care."

"We're trying to cut through the misinformation and deliver fact-based materials that resonate well," Courtney Z. Stewart, the foundation's vice president of strategic communications, said in a statement. "With the right information, those hit hardest by this pandemic can make the best choice for themselves and their families, and that's what this is about."

The state health department on Monday reported 193 newly confirmed cases and no new deaths. The state has reported 488,648 confirmed cases and 8,440 deaths since the pandemic began.