Dr. Fredrick Echols, director of the St. Louis Department of Health, on Tuesday updated the St. Louis Board of Alderman on distribution of the coronavirus vaccine.
“As you all know, there was a delay in the City of St. Louis receiving a COVID-19 vaccine,” he said, referencing the fact that the vaccine supply promised by the state of Missouri did not arrive when it was initially slated to. During that time, he said, the city worked with health agencies to create “rosters” of all health care staff in St. Louis who wished to receive the vaccine.
Then, last week, “approximately 3,900 doses” of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine arrived for St. Louis. Along with doses contributed from area health systems, such as Barnes-Jewish and St. Alexis hospitals towards vaccinating first responders, Echols said that the city has been able to vaccinate over 4,400 people this past week.
“We knew this isn’t enough to cover everyone,” Echols said at the virtual Board of Aldermen meeting, “But we wanted to cover as many people as we could.”
Most of those vaccinations happened over the course of three days, between the Jan. 28 and Jan. 31, at Union Station. Those eligible to receive a vaccine there were put on a “roster” of names submitted by organizations “at highest risk within the city.”
Working off of a list of employees at 60 agencies in the 1A category, Echols said, thousands of individuals were vaccinated.
Echols noted that while data on the age, race, and ethnicity of those who received the coveted first vaccines has been collected on hand-written forms at the Union Station site, it has not been tabulated or released yet.
Those who received vaccines this past weekend are a drop in the bucket, however, he said, compared to the number of people who have signed up to receive vaccines through the city; about 30,000 people have pre-registered, Echols said. Of those registered in the city, 12,000 of are over the age of 65. In addition to those who have registered through the city, some health care systems, such as SSM health and BJC, are running their own vaccination waitlists, too.
At the meeting, Lewis Reed, Board of Aldermen president, expressed concerns that individuals may be dishonestly claiming to suffer from health conditions that they do not have in order to get earlier vaccine access.
Echols said while the city does not have a process by which they can prove that individuals who say they have conditions, such as diabetes, do, in fact, have diabetes, “we really need individuals to be honest” when they come to the vaccination sites.
“Because we really do have a very limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines, we need to make sure that those who are at highest risk receive it before the general population.”
He also noted that efforts are being made to improve the rate of vaccination for individuals who may not have easy access to transportation. Echols said, the Federal Emergency Management Agency “has indicated that they will be willing to provide a mobile unit” to go out to areas where individuals are homebound. And the city will continue filing vaccine requests with the state of Missouri each week. This week’s vaccine shipment, expected to arrive Tuesday, will be 975 doses.
Regarding those who have not yet received a call or email informing them of their eligibility for a vaccine appointment, Echols said, “Just be patient with us … we’re advocating on their behalf to get as many vaccine doses to the city of St. Louis as possible.”
“A lot of people want the vaccine,” he said. “But as they talk about it on the federal level and on the state level … the amount of vaccine being received is not sufficient to meet the demand.”