Claire Smith Gets COVID-19 Vaccine

Union High School English teacher Claire Smith gets her first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine from Todd Kurzenberger March 18 at the school. The Union R-XI School District held the clinic for 250 employees and others who work for the district, including bus drivers and coaches.

Nearly 20 percent of Franklin County residents have received a COVID-19 vaccine, according to data from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

The county ranks 35th out of 115 counties in the state for the most vaccinated residents per capita.

Statewide, the number of Missourians vaccinated against COVID-19 has grown to 21.1 percent.

Franklin County Health Department officials said the county will start offering 300 vaccinations per day Tuesday, March 23, at the old Scenic Regional Library building in Union. Those vaccinations, which will include first and second shots, are in addition to the more than 300 vaccinations Mercy Clinic in Washington is administering per day.

Vaccines will be given by the health department from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

“This has been massive to pull all this off,” health department Director Angie Hittson told county commissioners at a Thursday workshop meeting.

The health department is planning multiple vaccination clinics starting in April. It will have four staff members start Monday, along with 11 current full-time staff members, Hittson said. She expects to add more staff after background and reference checks are completed.

The county will need volunteers from Mercy and BJC HealthCare for the large clinics. Several sites were discussed, including locations in Union, Washington and Sullivan.

Waiting until April to hold a mass vaccination clinic gives the health department a chance to get the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine, which could potentially mean needing fewer clinics, Hittson said.

The county currently has 21,557 people on its vaccine registration list, though some of those names are duplicates, and others have already been vaccinated elsewhere.

The county is planning to use robocalls to contact people to set up appointments, freeing up staff to give the vaccines.

“We had people on the phones all day last week, so we weren’t getting vaccines in the arms as much,” Hittson said.

Going to an automated system worked for St. Charles County, Hittson said. “St. Charles cleaned up like 98 percent of their list when they did theirs.”

Scenic Regional Library is charging the county $500 per month, though the first month was waived because the health department cleaned the library.

Meanwhile, the health department has an extra 300 vaccinations it is trying to get scheduled.

This would not be the first time extra vaccines have been available. Brinker said officials with Mercy Hospital Washington called him Monday, March 15, to ask if the county could use 1,000 vaccinations arriving the next day.

Brinker called Hittson, who told him the library site wouldn’t be ready to accommodate it.

“We couldn’t put together a team and do the documentation in a timely fashion,” Brinker said at the March 16 commission meeting. “But that really reveals a lot of other issues regarding vaccines.”

The vaccines will be used before they expire Tuesday, March 23, said Mercy Media Relations Manager Bethany Pope.

“The vaccine, still in ultra cold storage, will easily be used before Tuesday,” Pope said. “Any amount that cannot be used locally in Franklin County will be used by our St. Louis clinics.”

Mercy got the extra vaccines because it was mostly giving second vaccinations this week and needed to make room for patients to receive the first dose, Pope said.

Between 25 and 30 percent of Franklin County residents have been vaccinated or contracted the virus, Brinker said.

According to the World Health Organization, herd immunity against COVID-19 should be achieved by protecting people through vaccination, not by exposing them to the coronavirus. The agency says that although most people infected with COVID-19 develop an immune response within the first few weeks, they don’t know how strong or long-lasting the immunity is or how it differs between people.