Missouri opens vaccination to all residents aged 16 and older

Missouri has moved into Phase 3, the last tier of its COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

Missouri moved to Phase 3 of its COVID-19 vaccine rollout Friday, expanding access to all Missouri residents aged 16 and older.

Everyone in Phase 3 is eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, while only those 18 and older are eligible for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

MU Health Care is vaccinating people with Pfizer at the Walsworth Family Columns Club at Memorial Stadium, and Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services is giving out shots at its office on Worley Street. MU and the county are only providing shots by appointment, and sign-ups for all sites in the county are available at www.como.gov/covidvaccine/. Vaccines are free with or without insurance.

Sara Humm, the health department’s public information specialist, said demand for vaccines would dramatically rise as everyone becomes eligible, just as it has during the opening of each previous phase. She likened the demand to a balloon: full at first, but slowly shrinking as time passes and it deflates. Humm said demand would likely be higher now than ever since everyone is eligible, but that Boone County will be able to handle it.

“We are really lucky that we have a great network with our local vaccinators, like the hospitals and local pharmacies,” Humm said. “We also have some places here locally that are part of a federal program ... We can provide lots of opportunities for folks to get vaccinated at different places.”

Gov. Mike Parson said the state was opening Phase 3 earlier than expected because of a projected increase in vaccine supply. However, the Columbia Missourian reported Sunday that Missouri expects to receive just 157,040 vaccine doses this week — about 351,460 fewer doses than the state had projected the same time last week.

State officials are not yet sure what caused supply to drop. Missouri projects that about 40% of eligible Missourians do not plan to get a shot, and so officials expect vaccine supply will likely outpace demand in the state.

Humm said the health department is also holding vaccination events for a more accessible and proactive rollout. It provided 250 Moderna shots to anyone over 18 at The Blue Note theater downtown on Friday, and it will hold another event there on May 7.

Humm also said the department has held a vaccination event aimed at Black residents and is planning to hold one for Spanish-speaking residents, both groups that are less likely to get the vaccine. In Missouri, Black people make up 11.8% of the population but account for only 7% of those who have gotten their first shot.

The health department is working with MU Health Care for a vaccination event at Memorial Stadium on April 15, 16 and 17, during which it will provide 7,000 doses.

Brad Myers, MU Health Care’s executive director of pharmacy and lab services, said the state has designated Memorial Stadium a “high throughput” site, meaning it receives more vaccines from the state than any other site in Boone County. So far, it has provided a little over half of Boone County’s total shots — as of April 8, Myers said staff had administered about 52,000 out of the 103,112 total shots in Boone County.

MU students who received their vaccine at Memorial Stadium on Friday said the process of getting their shot was fast and easy. They said signing up was easy, too. Students Kaitlyn Boozer and Noelle DeRennaux both signed up through the COVID-19 Vaccine Survey, which allows people to register for a notification when vaccine doses are available in Boone County, even if they are not yet eligible to receive a shot.

Memorial Stadium lies on the southwestern edge of campus. Boozer and DeRennaux drove to the vaccine site, as did student Luke Donovan. Donovan said he thought getting to the site might be difficult for someone without a car.

OATS Transit is providing free rides to Memorial Stadium from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, and the rideshare service Lyft is also ferrying people to vaccine sites free of charge. Donovan said the university should do more to promote free ride services so students without transportation know about these opportunities.

“They didn't really make it well known,” Donovan said. “I know Lyft is providing free services for people, but [people] definitely need to know it’s an option.”

Phase 3 enables almost all MU students to get vaccinated, and Myers said students should do so as soon as possible. MU Health Care provides the Pfizer vaccine, and those who get it must wait three weeks between their first and second doses. Myers said students should keep the three-week window in mind when scheduling appointments so they don’t have to come back to Columbia after they’ve left for the summer. The spring semester ends in mid-May.

CNN reports that 14 universities are requiring students to get fully vaccinated before returning to campus this fall. MU is encouraging but not requiring students to get a vaccine. Myers said MU Health Care’s goal is to vaccinate as many people as possible and look toward the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for guidance on when to loosen COVID-19 restrictions.

Humm said the county is monitoring a list of numbers to gauge when to lift restrictions, including the positivity rate, hospitalization rate, effectiveness of contact tracers and vaccinations. Boone County is currently leading the state in initiating vaccination — 38.2% of its population had gotten at least one dose by April 12.

Humm said the conversation around lifting restrictions should not focus on returning to “normal” but should center on “moving forward.”

“We try to avoid using that kind of term, of returning to normal, because for a lot of people, it won't be,” Humm said. “A lot has happened over the past year, not just with COVID, but other life things and civil unrest and other health equity issues. For a lot of people, ‘normal’ wasn't working.”

Humm said that although the vaccine is not mandatory, everyone who can should get one. She said young people like college students should get it even though they typically get less sick, as they can still spread the virus and prolong the pandemic. Humm said fighting COVID-19 requires everyone’s help.

“While we all have some COVID fatigue, now is not the time to let up,” Humm said. “We need to continue to work through this together to be able to take that next step forward.”

Edited by Joy Mazur | jmazur@themaneater.com

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