State plans vaccine shift to metro areas
The St. Louis region stands to gain thousands of additional COVID-19 vaccine doses under Missouri’s new allocation model expected to go into effect later this month.
By the week of March 29, the state plans to start basing its weekly vaccine shipments to the state’s nine Highway Patrol regions on the number of eligible residents who have yet to be vaccinated. Previously, the state has been distributing vaccine based on overall population.
According to draft numbers shared on a call with vaccinators Tuesday, the shift will mean the St. Louis region’s weekly allocation will increase five percentage points — from 37 percent to 42 percent of the state’s vaccine shipment. Meanwhile, the Kansas City region will see an increase of one percentage point.
Since the state expects to receive approximately 120,300 doses combined of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines the week of March 29, under the new model the St. Louis region should get a little over 50,500 doses — about 6,000 more than it would have received under the allocation model based on total population.
The Kansas City region is expected to receive nearly 28,900 doses, or about 1,200 more than under a total population model.
This week the Kansas City Health Department director said the region had been shorted about 40,000 doses so far because it only received about 20 percent of the state’s allocation despite making up about 23 percent of the state’s population, according to The Kansas City Star.
Alex Garza, the incident commander of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force who has been vocal about the need for more doses in the St. Louis region, said in a statement Wednesday that the increased supply will help the region work toward vaccinating its most vulnerable residents.
“Widening availability of the COVID-19 vaccine in our region is a promising step that will allow us to protect our community, suppress the virus, and get us closer to fully opening the largest economic engines in the State,” Garza said.
Six of the remaining regions will see a decrease of one percentage point, while Region G, which includes the Ozarks area, will continue to receive the same percentage.
The actual number of doses each region will receive may be higher, as the projected vaccine allocations for the week of March 29 shared on Tuesday’s call do not include an anticipated shipment of Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The state learned last week that after receiving an initial shipment of about 50,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, it would not be receiving an additional shipment until the week of March 29 – two weeks after the next tier of eligible residents will be opened.
The shift in allocation comes after renewed calls for the state to change its distribution model to ensure equitable distribution. Gov. Mike Parson also vowed more mass vaccination teams will be transitioning to the Kansas City and St. Louis areas by April 1.
“That’s really based again on the fact that now that we’re moving further into the general population, we feel like we really need to start focusing our numbers specifically on the unvaccinated that are in open and eligible populations,” Adam Crumbliss, director of the DHSS’ Division of Community and Public Health, said of the allocation change.
Ted Delicath, a principal with the McChrystal Group, a Virginia-based consulting firm hired to advise the state’s response to the pandemic, told vaccinators last week that the state’s shift to allocating vaccine based on the number of eligible residents will be informed by analyses conducted for the state by Deloitte Consulting.
Deloitte’s analyses conducted from Feb. 8-22, repeatedly found Missouri’s urban centers have the largest “vaccination gap” – the estimated number of eligible residents who still haven’t received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Meanwhile, the analyses, which were obtained by The Independent through an open records request, found rural counties in Missouri’s southwest region were the areas with the lowest percentage of eligible residents vaccinated.
Delicath said last week the state’s new model will be more targeted, “because it becomes general and imprecise if we’re just sending vaccines based on overall population.”
Robert Knodell, Parson’s deputy chief of staff, told vaccinators that on a call with the White House Tuesday, federal officials said they expect a sharp increase in supply by the end of the month and early next month, especially in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
President Joe Biden’s declaration that the U.S. expects to have enough supply for every adult who wants a vaccine to at least have their first dose by the end of May, is a “pretty big indicator” of the solid upward trajectory of the nation’s supply, Crumbliss said.
After Tier 3 of Phase 1B, which includes essential workers, opens on March 15, Parson said the next phase may open within 45 days.
As vaccine supply increases, Crumbliss said he anticipates the amount of vaccine going toward groups like local public health departments and Federally Qualified Health Centers will increase.
Outrage boiled over in recent weeks after mass vaccination events held in rural areas had unused doses at the end of the day — prompting some health departments to take to social media and encourage anyone to come for fear doses would be wasted.
It spurred some St. Louis area residents to drop what they were doing to make it in time.
“On the one hand, we don’t want folks to be in a position that they have to do that because we want to get vaccine to those communities,” Crumbliss said of residents from urban areas driving hours to receive vaccine.
But when that does happen, “it leaves a gap of vaccine delivery in those rural communities and so we have to look at doing possibly more events there to help cover the demand,” Crumbliss said.
In one week alone, 7,735 doses were unused across mass vaccination events and redistributed to other providers or saved for subsequent clinics. Altogether 152 doses were wasted – with 143 from a single event in Putnam County.
With the shift in the state’s allocation strategy, Crumbliss stressed vaccine is making its way across the state.
“We appreciate any patience that folks can have, because the vaccine is coming,” Crumbliss said.