The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services plans to send 340,000 coronavirus vaccine doses to essential health workers by the end of this month, Director Randall Williams said Friday afternoon.
The federal government’s Operation Warp Speed likely will ship the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to the health department in the next few weeks, Williams said.
The doses will be enough to immunize nearly 60% of health care workers, long-term care facility residents and staff, whom the state has identified as the highest priority to vaccinate.
That means the first vaccinations could reach Missourians before the end of the year, Williams said.
“Every person who gets vaccinated, we’re one step closer,” Williams said. “So that’s our mission.”
Williams and other members of Gov. Mike Parson’s administration say distributing and administering the vaccine is among their highest priorities to mitigate the virus in Missouri. Parson has not issued statewide mask mandates and shutdowns.
However, the vaccine shipment depends on the two vaccines receiving approval from the U.S Food and Drug Administration. The developers of both vaccines have said tests have shown them to be more than 90% effective. The FDA needs to review those findings.
Two other drug developers, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, are in late stages of development of their immunizations. Williams expects their vaccines to become available in early spring.
Those vaccines could go to people in the second-highest priority tier such as teachers, child care providers and first responders, he said.
“In February the potential to have 3 million people who need to be vaccinated with four vaccines, you can imagine the logistics of that,” Williams said. He said the National Guard will be able to help distribute the vaccines.
By May 1, Williams expects to see “mass vaccinations” at drive-through clinics, pharmacies, gymnasiums and government-run health clinics, he said.
“We feel like by July or August we will be able to vaccinate anyone in Missouri who wants a vaccine,” he said.
Both Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines require multiple doses. The federal government has confirmed it has supplies to send Missouri the second doses after the first ones are used. If someone receives a Moderna vaccine in the first dose, they’ll also receive a Moderna vaccine in the second dose, he said.
The timeline the state gives is realistic, said Michael Kinch, vice chancellor of Washington University. He applauded the state’s decision to vaccinate health care workers first.
“If you ask what are the most susceptible populations, the most at risk, it’s exactly the populations that are announced [in the first tier], which are physicians and the elderly,” said Kinch, a radiation oncology professor who studies pharmaceutical development.
However, the people who are spreading the virus the most are likely in their 20s, he said.
“Part of the idea is to immunize the 20-year-olds last, because they’re the healthiest,” Kinch said. “But at the same time, they’re probably most likely to spread it. So it’s a tough call.”
Ultimately, that means the pandemic will continue for months into 2021, he said.
Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge