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'There's a lot of moving pieces' | St. Louis task force says questions remain about vaccine distribution

"More recent discussions have led us to believe that we aren't going to be seeing that significant uptick in vaccine," Dr. Alex Garza said

ST. LOUIS — The leader of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force said he does not expect a significant increase in vaccine doses in the St. Louis area in the near future, and when the area could see a significant increase is still up in the air.

Dr. Alex Garza, the incident commander of the task force, said early discussions led the systems to believe vaccine production would ramp up after the distribution of the initial doses. He said more recent discussions have gone against that idea.

"More recent discussions have led us to believe that we aren't going to be seeing that significant uptick in vaccine and we may be dealing with the amount that we're seeing right now," Garza said. "Which again, makes it very difficult to immunize significant percentages of the population in a very timely manor, so how we're going to vaccine into the future is still a bit of an unknown."

Dr. Garza said he is confident production will eventually ramp up, and the authorization of new vaccines — including a one-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson —will help, but there are still several factors to be determined.

"There's a lot of moving pieces in all of this, and we still have to see what the Biden administration is going to do, whether they implement the defense production act to help with production," Dr. Garza said. "That could be something that changes the volume, so there's just a lot of unknowns out there, but for right now, at least for the near future, we're not planning on seeing a significant increase in the amount of vaccine."

While vaccine rollout is expected to remain at a similar level in the near future, the seven-day average of COVID-19 hospitalizations continues to fall.

On Wednesday, the task force reported a seven-day hospitalization average of 694, down from 702 on Tuesday. This is the first time the task force has reported a seven-day average of less than 700 since Nov. 15, 2020.

Despite the falling COVID-19 hospitalizations, overall hospital capacity remains high. As of Wednesday, 85% of task force hospital beds were full and 85% of ICU beds were full.

"What we have found, is even though we have less contribution to our patient census from COVID, we're still maintaining our census from all our other, non-COVID patients," Dr. Garza said.

Although COVID-19 hospitalizations are decreasing, hospital capacity on Tuesday was at 86% and ICU capacity was at 87%.

The following data are the combined figures from the four major health systems (BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health, St. Luke’s Hospital) that are part of the task force, for Jan. 20.

  • New hospital admissions (data lagged two days) increased - from 80 yesterday to 92 today.
  • The seven-day moving average of hospital admissions (data lagged two days) decreased – from 99* yesterday to 96 today.
  • The seven-day moving average of hospitalizations decreased - from 702 yesterday to 694 today.
  • Inpatient confirmed COVID positive hospitalizations increased – from 668 yesterday to 673 today.
  • Inpatient suspected COVID positive hospitalizations increased – from 48 yesterday to 59 today.
  • The number of confirmed COVID positive patients in the ICUs decreased – from 134 yesterday to 126 today.
  • The number of confirmed COVID positive patients on ventilators increased – from 86 yesterday to 89 today.
  • The number of COVID deaths increased – from 11 yesterday to 17 today.
  • The seven-day moving average of COVID deaths remained the same at 14 today.
  • Across the system hospitals, 92 COVID-19 patients were discharged to home yesterday, bringing the cumulative number of COVID-19 patients discharged to 16,753.
  • Today, staffed bed hospital capacity is at 85%, an average across our task force hospitals. The ICU’s are at 85% of their total staffed bed capacity.

The task force also updated previous days of admissions data.

  • 1/15: Admissions: 116 — 7-day average: 102
  • 1/16: Admissions: 111 — 7-day average: 103
  • 1/17: Admissions: 97 — 7-day average: 104
  • 1/18: Admissions: 67 — 7-day average: 102
  • 1/19: Admissions: 80 — 7-day average: 99
  • 1/20: Admissions: 92 — 7-day average: 96