More than 500,000 Missourians who work as teachers, government employees and other essential workers will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine starting next month.
On March 15, critical infrastructure employees will join health care workers, first responders and people with high-risk health conditions as those able to receive the shots. That means about 3.5 million people, or more than half of Missouri's population, will then be eligible for vaccinations.
While the federal government is still shipping a limited number of doses of the vaccine to the state, Gov. Mike Parson said Thursday that the state is expanding eligibility in part because many people who are eligible for the vaccine do not want it.
About 40% of the 3.5 million people eligible on March 15 will choose to not be vaccinated, Parson said.
“Part of why we are activating on March 15 is to ensure there is a steady flow of people eligible and interested in getting vaccinated,” Parson said. “This allows vaccinators to vaccinate people without waiting on those who don’t want one.”
Approximately 730,000 Missourians, or 12% of the state’s population, have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Doctors have said between 70% and 80% of the population must receive vaccinations to reach herd immunity, the point at which the virus stops spreading and infection is tamped down.
The state is distributing vaccines proportionally to each region of the state based on population, Parson said. But several large vaccination events in rural areas have had more vaccine supply than demand.
Parson said the state has faced challenges getting vaccine for those already eligible.
“We still have to remember there’s lots of people out there that haven’t received the vaccine yet, especially our seniors,” he said, “the ones we should all take a backseat to and make sure they get that vaccine.”
This week, many people in the St. Louis area struggled to find appointments and drove hours to rural areas to find a shot.
The federal government will send 120,000 doses to the state this week and 128,000 doses next week, officials said. But the governor expects the vaccine supply to increase as drug companies ramp up production. Officials also expect the federal Food and Drug Administration to approve a new one-dose vaccine from Johnson and Johnson within days.
Federal officials will also begin distributing more doses to federally qualified health centers, or government clinics that treat vulnerable patients, as part of a federal partnership, Parson said.
The state will use the Missouri National Guard, which has been conducting large-scale mass vaccination events throughout the state, to hold more vaccination clinics in urban areas including Kansas City and St. Louis.
Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge