JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri is in its fourth straight day of adding more than 4,000 new COVID-19 cases to the state’s total and the state health’s director says the best way to get back to normal is the vaccine.
The Department of Health and Senior Services leader Dr. Randall Williams said people in Phase one should start receiving the vaccine in just a few weeks, but as hospitals are experiencing a shortage across the state, he said in order to give this vaccine, more staff will need to be hired.
When asked if hospitals are overwhelmed, Williams responded by saying, “I think they are stretched.”
Throughout the state, hospitals are running out of space for patients. Earlier this week, the St. Louis Pandemic Task Force said 50% of the city’s COVID-19 hospital beds are occupied with patients outside of the St. Louis area.
“It’s not as much the licensed beds, it’s getting the staff in them to use those beds,” Williams said. “If you would have asked me back in April what I was concerned about, I would have said the number of ventilators and beds, now I would tell you it’s the number of high-flow oxygen machines we can use and staffing.”
Williams believes the vaccine is the country’s best shot at getting back to normal.
“We’re going to do that through mass vaccinations in gymnasiums, through drive-thru clinics,” Williams said.
But before those mass vaccinations start, the vaccine must be approved by the FDA and then Williams said health care sites need to hire more people.
“We will be hiring more staff, we’re doing this through regional teams, so we are working with those sites to have those people in place to vaccinate those people coming in from long-term care facilities,” Williams said.
Missouri submitted its COVID-19 vaccination plan in October to the CDC. The state received their plan back and Williams said the CDC asked for more clarification but did not make major changes.
“They wanted more granularity for certain things,” Williams said. “When we submitted our plan, and that was on a Thursday, that afternoon, unbeknown to use, sent it out to all the other 49 states and said Missouri has submitted a really good plan and look at this.”
Williams said during Phase one, all health care workers will have the ability to be vaccinated. Then in phase two, the vaccine will be given to people working at long-term care facilities and those at high risk from COVID-19 like the elderly and people with medical conditions. The vaccine will be available at five locations across the state, but those sites are currently secret.
“That is under federal guidelines from security concerns,” Williams said. “That along, with the whole supply chain, they are very much focused on security of that and are proving the security of that. I think what they are saying is they don’t want us to publicize it in a big way, but you and I both know people will probably figure it out.”
In Missouri, the National Guard will be part of strategic planning. Part of that planning is each person must get two doses of the vaccine.
“When they give you the first shot, it boosts your immune response, but it didn’t boost it enough to get long-lasting immunity,” Williams said. “And then if you get the second injection three weeks later, it does that.”
Williams said the federal government has created software for states to keep track of people’s vaccines. This software will notice a person 21 days after their first shot to come back for their second dose.
“In April, we will have four vaccines in Missouri, but you can’t mix and match, it has to be consistent,” Williams said. “When we get into phase two and phase three, we believe at that time we will have other vaccines available because now you’re talking probably February or March.”
He hopes the vaccine will be available for all Missourians in April or May.