The number of vaccine doses going to the St. Louis region will increase next week, state officials said Wednesday — a day after local government officials, including Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker, publicly criticized the state for how it is distributing COVID-19 vaccines in one of the state’s most-populated regions.
In an email to Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services officials and Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s communications director, Kelli Jones, Brinker said the state is not providing enough vaccines to the 11 counties, including Franklin County, which make up Region C, causing some vaccination clinics to be canceled or postponed.
Other counties in the region are: Pike, Lincoln, Warren, St. Charles, St. Louis, Jefferson, Washington, St. Francois, St. Genevieve and Perry. St. Louis city is also included. The region accounts for 37 percent of the state’s population, but to date has only received 15,600 doses, or 17 percent, of the vaccines allocated by the federal government to Missouri.
“The 15,600 is only one part of what should be a larger allocation, resulting in a significant under allocation to this region,” Brinker wrote in his email.
He continued, “Please know that I understand the shortage of available vaccines, but also know that I would not be fulfilling my duties as presiding commissioner if I did not request this action be explained or addressed as soon as possible.”
On Wednesday during a call with reporters from across the state, state health officials said for the week of Feb. 15, the region’s vaccination sites should expect to receive a combined 33,200 first doses, approximately doubling what it received the week prior.
“Every week, we’re going to see numbers grow and fade in each region, but our commitment and our expectation is that we will continue to work toward achieving regional balance on all of those different vaccine channels,” said Adam Crumbliss, director of the state health department’s community and public health division.
He continued, “Certainly every week is its own new challenge and distinct change that we have to work through. But our objective is to get to a good sense of parity across all the regions.”
State officials plan to distribute 97,525 first doses of the two-dose vaccines across Missouri next week. The plan shows 33,200 — or 34 percent — of the doses will go to the St. Louis region.
In response, Parson pushed back against his critics.
On Wednesday, he complained about press coverage of the state’s vaccine numbers in a virtual meeting with a handful of Missouri mayors. Washington Mayor Sandy Lucy and other Franklin County mayors were not on the call.
Parson followed that up by complaining in a press conference that public health officials, specificially Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Pandemic Task Force, were “misleading the people of St. Louis.”
“He has led with fear and panic rather than a sense of balance,” Parson said of Garza, who along with Brinker has been critical of the amount of vaccines allocated to the St. Louis region. Parson did not specifically mention Brinker in his comments.
Crumbliss defended the state’s vaccination distribution practices, arguing that pumping more vaccine per capita into the rural regions of the state saved lives.
“We know that when you look proportionally across the state, there’s an aging population in Missouri, and that’s often very much more experienced in the rural communities,” Crumbliss said. “That’s one point we have to keep in mind.”
According to the state health department, 71.3 percent of the 574,000 Missourians who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine are 65 years old or older.
“That’s something we can be really proud of as a state,” said Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
Per the same state data, 7.9 percent of Franklin County’s residents have received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Franklin County’s vaccination rates are comparable per capita to other counties in the region, according to data from the state health department.
The vaccination rates in the region are Pike, 1,390 first doses, 7.3 percent; Lincoln, 3,597 first doses, 6.1 percent; Warren, 1,793 first doses, 5 percent; St. Charles, 30,080 first doses, 7.5 percent; St. Louis, 85,058 first doses, 8.6 percent; Jefferson, 12,465 first doses, 5.5 percent; Washington, 1,680 first doses, 6.8 percent; St. Francois, 6,600 first doses, 9.8 percent; Ste. Genevieve, 2,123 first doses, 11.9 percent; Perry, 2,399 first doses, 12.5 percent; and St. Louis city, 20,402 first doses, 6.8 percent.
Williams said 53 percent of all doses that the state receives are allocated to “high throughput centers” such as hospitals, including Mercy, Barnes-Jewish, SSM and others.
The National Guard also receives 23 percent of the state’s doses, which are used for mass vaccination clinics that are held throughout the state on a rotational basis. Each vaccination clinic has the capability of vaccinating up to 2,000 people, according to Williams.
The remaining doses are distributed to independent pharmacies, corporate-owned pharmacies, long-term care centers, county health departments and other health care providers. State officials also announced Wednesday that 81 Walmart pharmacy locations had been approved by the federal government and would begin distributing the COVID-19 vaccine Friday. While none of the Walmart locations in Franklin County are on the list, and the nearest approved locations are in Cuba, Potosi, Shrewsbury and Florissant.
To sign up or check the availability of a vaccine, visit walmart.com/COVIDvaccine.
Williams said he and other state officials recently learned from federal colleagues that the state would be receiving a “fairly significant amount” of the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine in March.
Attempts to reach Brinker were unsuccessful.