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St. Louis area vaccinators not moving to next phase of rollout despite state's March 15 announcement

"We're still focusing on that 1B-2 population," Dr. Alex Garza of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force said

ST. LOUIS — When the state moves to Phase 1B-Tier 3 of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout process, it will happen without some of the St. Louis area’s major vaccinators being on board, the head of the Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force told 5 On Your Side.

“I think it depends on who the vaccinator is. So I can tell you from the health care system's point of view, we're still focusing on that 1B-2 population, and then specifically on that age-based criteria,” said Dr. Alex Garza.

A Mercy spokesperson confirmed, saying that will be the case for "all of us in the St. Louis area."

Governor Mike Parson announced the state would open the vaccine rollout to the tier including “critical infrastructure workers” on March 15 in a news conference last Thursday. This expands access to about 550,000 more Missourians.

However, Dr. Garza said the local healthcare system has a long way to go in vaccinating those currently eligible before they’re able to expand access to the people included in the next round of the rollout plan.

“Although we do believe they are important for continuing to keep society moving, if the goal really is to reduce death and disability, you have to focus on that more at-risk population,” he said. “We have to protect the most vulnerable and that is what we have to do until we get enough vaccine and we get those at-risk populations adequately protected before we can move on to the next phase."

He said it is similar to previous expansions of the vaccine rollout program: when the state opened up vaccines to older adults, many local vaccinators finished administering shots to those in population 1A before scheduling appointments for greater populations. It will be important to stay up to date with the individual health departments, hospital systems, pharmacies and other vaccinator locations where you're preregistered to know when they begin vaccinating the next phase, he said.

“So, if we get enough vaccine, we can move through the populations faster, get to Phase 3 faster.”

Dr. Garza said the communication with the state has improved, as has the consistency of the supply delivered, but there just currently aren’t enough vaccines available to meet the “pent up demand."

“There probably will be scenarios where people that are in Tier 3, if they're not able to get vaccinated here locally, will probably take advantage of traveling outside of the metro area to get vaccine. You know, that's most likely an inevitable story.”

In an email update Monday, a St. Louis County Department of Public Health spokesperson said they’re working with school districts to get vaccines to teachers and asked for patience for those who will soon be eligible.

“The county cautions that there remain hundreds of thousands of people in the tiers above who are on preregistration lists awaiting an appointment,” read the email.

Dr. Garza said it will be important for people to be truthful in filling out vaccine preregistrations in this next phase, as it will be largely honor system-based.

Phase 1B-Tier 3 includes:

  • Education: Teachers, faculty and staff in public, private and nonprofit preK-12
  • Childcare: Faculty and staff in a DHSS or DSS-licensed facility providing basic care to children
  • Communications sector: Employees at public, private or nonprofit organizations that provide communications services
  • Dams sector: Employees at public, private or nonprofit organizations that provide services in the dams sector related to critical water retention and control services
  • Energy sector: Employees at public, private or nonprofit organizations that provide energy services, regardless of the energy source
  • Food/Agriculture sector I: Employees of certain food production and processing facilities and related operations, prioritizing mass food production, distribution, transportation, wholesale and retail sales, including grocery and convenience stores where groceries are sold; includes veterinary services
  • Government: Elected officials in any branch of government at the state, county and/or municipal levels required for the continuity of government; members of the judiciary at the federal, state and/or local levels required for the continuity of government; employees designated by the federal government that fall within the state’s vaccine allocation responsibilities; other designated government personnel required for the continuity of government.
  • Information technology sector: Employees at public, private or nonprofit organizations that provide IT services
  • Nuclear reactors, materials and waste sector: Employees at public, private or nonprofit organizations that work in this sector
  • Transportation systems sector: Employees in the transportation systems sector including aviation, highway and motor carriers, maritime transportation systems, mass transit and passenger rail, pipeline systems, freight rail and postal shipping
  • Water and wastewater systems sector: Employees at public, private and/or nonprofit organizations that provide drinking or wastewater services

See full details about the vaccine plan on Missouri's COVID-19 vaccine website.

If you want to get the vaccine, it’s encouraged to sign up on as many lists as you can even before March 15.  

“Go ahead and get preregistered, get on the list. But then you have some expectation of waiting a little while before you can actually get the vaccine,” said Dr. Garza.