$1 for 3 months
$1 for 3 months

Vaccine effort for Black, Latino Missourians slow to begin

By The Associated Press

KANSAS CITY (AP) — Missouri tasked nine regional groups across the state with making sure Black and Latino communities have equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, but the effort got off to a slow start.

Nearly two months into the vaccine rollout, four of the groups still aren't operational, KCUR reported Monday. Overall, just 5% of the doses in Missouri has received have gone to Black residents, even though Black people make up about 11.5% of the state's population.

“It’s a life-and-death situation,” said Kansas City Councilwoman Melissa Robinson, who is also president of the Black Health Care Coalition, a local nonprofit that seeks to eliminate health-care disparities in the Black community. “The vaccine is the difference between someone becoming ill with the virus and dying or living.”

The theory behind the state's plan was that a regional organization would know its area best and would understand how to reach at-risk community members. But regional officials say the effort is being hampered by a lack of state funding and confusion about what they see as vague state expectations.

“I don’t think there’s any question that this has delayed some of the potential coordination and response in the metro area,” said Dr. Rex Archer, who heads Kansas City's Health Department.

Missouri was one of the first states to submit a plan for vaccine distribution to the federal government, relying on a “regionally empowered model.”

Regional groups are tasked with responsibilities that include making sure vaccine providers have the right type of storage for doses, implementing plans to reach “communities of color,” and helping administer the vaccine on site.

The nine regional teams would get no more than $128,479.88 from the state to do this, and that's not enough money, Archer said.

“You get what you pay for,” Archer said. “And sometimes you don’t get what you don’t pay for.”

The state has signed contracts with five of the nine regional teams, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Most of those contracts were awarded in late December. Three additional contracts are pending.

The Kansas City regional implementation team will be overseen by Truman Medical Centers and the Jackson County Health Department, said Lisa Cox, a spokeswoman for the state health department. She said in an email that the state sought TMC’s involvement after no other bids were submitted. The contract is still being finalized and it’s unclear when the team will start.

The state health department on Monday reported 447 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and no new deaths from the disease. Missouri's pandemic totals stand at 466,664 cases and 7,143.