Gov. Mike Parson and Randall Williams, the state’s public health director, said Thursday that Missouri is ready to administer a COVID-19 vaccine when one is approved.
Williams said the vaccine would be administered in three phases. He said that in the first phase, the state expects to have a “finite amount" and will only administer the vaccine to those most vulnerable. They include include nursing home residents, long-term care facility staff and other health care workers.
However, the document breaks down Phase One recipients further “if the need arises.” Essentially, if there is not enough vaccine to cover all of the health care workers, the state will prioritize workers who “self-identify recognized CDC established comorbidities for COVID-19,” such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or diabetes.
When asked specifically where K-12 and higher education fell into prioritization, Williams said, “I’m going to let you read the plan to answer that.” The 112-page document was not available until the start of a press briefing Thursday afternoon.
According to the document, child care workers and teachers and staff fall into the second phase, along with public health workers who deal directly with the general population, first responders, high-risk individuals and others. What isn’t clear is whether these groups are prioritized within each phase.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Senior Services said in a statement regarding that question: “At this point, there are still many variables and all of this is dependent on the amount of and timing of doses received, and the plan will adapt as available resources allow.”
Williams said that he believes the state will receive the first few doses as early as December and that the vaccine may be available to the general public in April 2021.
When asked how the state determined which groups fell into which phase or priority level, Williams referenced the Book of Proverbs, saying, “We don’t lean into our own understanding.”
“We’ve listened very carefully to the CDC, we’ve listened very carefully to national advisory groups,” Williams added.
There are four types of vaccines now in the third phase of clinical trials. It is not certain which will be available first, but Williams said the state is prepared either way.
Within the document, there are three key objectives listed. Those include: reducing the morbidity and mortality of the virus, protecting those at most significant risk and providing the vaccine at no cost to every Missourian who wants it. However, at the briefing, there was some conflicting information.
“It is a free vaccine,” Williams said. “The syringes and the PPE and the gowns that go with it are all free. You are allowed to charge to administer it through normal mechanisms.”
In a twitter response, the Department of Health and Senior Services clarified that providers may charge a maximum fee of $15, referencing page 71 of the plan.
On page 71, however, it says "no maximum amount has been set at this time" to administer the vaccine. It states that it's "anticipated that any administration charge set will not exceed the current maximum authorized under the VFC (Vaccines for Children) program. That current amount is $21.53."
Williams said at the briefing the state is still working through regulations on who is allowed to administer the vaccine as well.
Though he recognized that there is some reluctance among Americans to get the vaccine, including about half of Missourians in a recent poll, he said this has been a science-backed approach.
“I do think this is our best chance and our best pathway to get to a better place. I really do,” he said.
Parson and Williams highlighted what they called a “collaborative effort” on the plan.
“We are in a great place in the planning process and to take action as soon as this vaccine becomes available,” Parson said.
Missouri expects to receive feedback from the federal government on the vaccine plan later this month.
Coronavirus in Missouri
At the briefing, Parson recognized an uptick in cases throughout the state but said it was not a problem that just Missouri is facing.
“Over the past week, Missouri has averaged roughly 1,400 cases per day,” Parson said. “The entire Midwest is seeing an increase in cases right now, including Missouri. We have also seen an increase in hospitalizations."
According to CDC data, Missouri is ranked eighth in the nation for the number of cases in the past seven days and sixth for the number of deaths.
When asked again about a possible mask mandate in rural counties as those areas are experiencing higher rates of infection, Parson compared it to mandating that “every man, woman and child receive a vaccine.”
“The problem is, this has become such a political issue,” Parson said about wearing masks. “The truth of the matter is social distancing is more important.”
Health professionals continue to emphasize the importance of wearing masks, some even suggesting people begin wearing them at home if they live with someone especially vulnerable.
And last month, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said before a Senate committee that wearing face masks may be more effective at protecting against the coronavirus than a vaccine.