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Missouri official blames confusion for low vaccination rate

By Jim Salter The Associated Press

O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) — Missouri's poor ranking in getting residents a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine is partly due to “confusion” in the final days of the Trump administration and through the transition of power, a state official told a vaccine advisory panel Thursday.

Data posted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that for several days, Missouri ranked last among the states in the percentage of residents getting a first vaccine dose. Information posted Thursday showed Missouri moved up one spot, slightly ahead of Idaho. About 4.8% of residents in both states have received the initial dose.

During a meeting of the Missouri Advisory Committee on Equitable COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution, Division of Community and Public Health Director Adam Crumbliss cited “a lot of confusion in the final weeks of the previous federal administration and the transition to the incoming administration” as a factor that hampered vaccine distribution.

“In particular, there was a lot of confusion and concern about the distribution of second doses," Crumbliss said. “We were told at one point there toward the end (of the Trump administration) that those secondary doses were not necessarily going to be allocated, they were just going to be pushed into the normal supply. And so that created several systemic challenges.”

But Crumbliss said that “over the last week or two,” officials have made it clear that second doses will be made available to Missouri.

Meanwhile, state health department spokeswoman Lisa Cox said the federal government now will provide three weeks' prior notice of vaccine shipments. Previously, notice came one week at a time, she said in an email.

Crumbliss said the “better clarity” means that "there is a lot more comfort and capacity to go ahead and move forward in injecting first doses and knowing that, in fact, yes, federal authorities have clarified that there will be secondary dose shipments.”

That clarity, along with Gov. Mike Parson's new plan to divert unused vaccine from CVS and Walgreens pharmacies to hundreds of other state-enrolled vaccinators such as hospitals and clinics, should boost Missouri's ranking, Crumbliss said.

CVS and Walgreens were tasked with providing vaccinations at long-term care facilities under a plan unveiled in December, but Parson's office said they have at least 25,000 unused doses available for redistribution.

Confusion over vaccinations extends to Missouri lawmakers. On Wednesday, legislators and members of their staffs received initial doses that were intended for other state employees, a mistake that one lawmaker called “emblematic” of the problems that have dogged the vaccine rollout.

A team of vaccinators was at a Jefferson City hotel giving shots of the Pfizer vaccine to employees of the Missouri Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety. Cox told the Columbia Missourian that all of the employees getting shots were in tiers approved for vaccinations.

But House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said she heard from a senator that shots would be available more broadly. She alerted other Democrats in an email that read, “Vaccines are currently at capitol plaza hotel for state employees. Must have employee ID.” The Missourian obtained the email from a staff member in the House.

A short time later, Dana Rademan Miller, the chief clerk and administrator for the Missouri House, sent out a notice clarifying that the vaccinations were not for lawmakers and their staff.

“At no time were any legislative employees told they were ineligible, even though the paperwork required them to identify the agency they worked for,” said Marc Powers, Quade's chief of staff. “Senate and House members and staffers from both parties were in the line.”

Quade told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the confusion on Wednesday was emblematic of the problems with the vaccine effort, which has been slower nationally than expected.

The state health department on Thursday reported 1,636 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 16 more deaths from the disease, pushing its pandemic totals to 454,573 cases and 6,725 deaths.