Early next month, every adult in Missouri will be eligible to receive a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine after Gov. Mike Parson announced Thursday the next phases will be activated sooner than anticipated.
Citing an expected increase in vaccine supply, Parson said it was necessary to ensure additional Missourians would be eligible to meet the expanding number of doses. Parson previously said that the next tier may be activated as soon as 45 days after the latest phase opened March 15.
“However, with progress we’re currently seeing and vaccine supply expected to increase significantly in the coming weeks, we are well ahead of schedule,” the governor said during a press conference Thursday.
Phase 2, which includes additional essential workers like the construction sector and higher education and vulnerable populations like disproportionately affected racial groups and people experiencing homelessness, will activate March 29.
Phase 3, which encompasses any Missourian that remains unvaccinated, will be opened up on April 9.
Combined, the phases will make approximately 2 million more Missourians eligible to receive the vaccine. In total, an estimated 4.5 million residents will be eligible once all phases are activated — with an estimated 40 percent of residents expected to not to take the vaccine.
Randall Williams, the director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, said combatting vaccine hesitancy will take increased education about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy, and also require relying on trusted relationships.
“For me what it often comes down to is, is that we have to find those people in each individual community that people trust,” Williams said.
A March 15 analysis by a consulting firm hired by the state estimated that as of March 9, there were 1.55 million eligible Missourians who had not yet received their first dose of a vaccine and about 36.9 percent of eligible residents vaccinated.
The most recent tier was opened Monday and included groups like teachers, grocery store workers and childcare providers. When announcing its activation, the state had pointed to a boost in supply due to the anticipated arrival of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
However, earlier this month the state received unexpected news that after its initial shipment, it wouldn’t be receiving another delivery of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine until late March.
That increased supply is now on the horizon, as the state expects to receive at least 7,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine next week, providers were told on a call Tuesday. From there, the supply of all three vaccines — Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson — is expected to steadily rise in the coming weeks.
According to estimates shared on Tuesday’s call, by the week of April 5 the state anticipates receiving 245,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, 175,000 of Moderna’s and 88,500 of Johnson & Johnson’s.
In addition to the increased supply, more changes are on the horizon. By the week of March 29, the state also plans to shift its allocation strategy to sending doses based on the number of eligible residents who remain unvaccinated in each region, rather than based on the region’s share of the overall population.
The new model will send thousands of more doses to the regions encompassing Kansas City and St. Louis.
Since late January, Parson said the state has been working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up additional vaccination sites in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas, which would be supplied with doses from the federal government. It’s a move Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas called for in a letter to FEMA earlier this month.
“Mega” vaccination sites supported by the Missouri National Guard are occurring in both St. Louis and Kansas City in the coming weeks — after residents in urban areas have clamored for more accessible events while thousands of doses have gone unused at clinics in rural areas.
Parson said the federally-supported events will help alleviate the high demand for vaccine in the state’s urban centers.
“With supply increasing, we are hopeful that these backlogs will be cleared very soon,” Parson said.
This story was republished with permission from the Missouri Independent, a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering state government, politics and policy.