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Pandemic turning point: Vaccine supply begins to outpace demand in St. Louis region

“I think that's a troubling sign of things to come.”

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — It was not long ago that there simply were not enough vaccines for everyone who wanted one, even if they were eligible. As hospitals and vaccinator sites are now seeing a different trend in which vaccine appointments are going unclaimed, are we at a tipping point?

“Absolutely,” said Dr. Michael Kinch. “And we could have predicted that this would have happened. And it's a little troubling that it's happening now.”

As a vaccine expert who’s had his eye on the rollout, Kinch expected many more people would be vaccinated before widespread vaccine hesitancy became an issue.

“I think that's a troubling sign of things to come.”

Moving to phase 3 opens up vaccinations to 1.1 million more people; a total of 4.5 million Missourians are now eligible to get the vaccine. As of Thursday, about 1.14 million Missourians had gotten a shot.

“I think the fact that there is now more availability is a fantastic thing. Perhaps in the past, people said, 'Well, I'm going to procrastinate, let others go first,' or maybe, 'I'm just busy.' But now they really don't have any excuses,” said Kinch.

For the St. Louis region to achieve herd immunity, the Pandemic Task Force has targeted getting 75% of the population vaccinated. Dr. Alex Garza estimates we can achieve that, at our current vaccination rate, by the end of June.

“It would be concerning if we saw a slowdown in the number of people receiving vaccine,” said a task force spokesperson in an email. “We cannot reach a level of herd immunity in the timeline we originally discussed without it. It’s important for the community to get the vaccine when available to them to help everyone get back to a sense of normalcy.”

“Probably what will happen to the individual level is when they start to see when individuals who are hesitant start to see those around them getting vaccinated and not having any problems, then I think they will become more likely to say, 'OK, I'll get vaccinated,'” Kinch said. 

Some of the local shot supply surplus may be attributed to people traveling elsewhere to get their vaccines. St. Louis County is more than 20% fully vaccinated, for example, higher than the state overall. Kinch also says now we are beginning to see the result of people who said they wanted to wait until many other people had been vaccinated before getting their shot, and those who waited are still not ready.

“If you don't get vaccinated, there are going to be more and more chances for this virus to mutate and to eventually reach a point where it won't care about the vaccine anymore. And we're back to where we were a year ago. And so it's incumbent upon all of us to do our part.”

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