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The latest news from every corner of the state, including policy emerging from Missouri's capitol.

Missouri Health Workers Expected To Receive Coronavirus Vaccine Next Week

Coronavirus vaccines are assembled at a Pfizer manufacturing facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Nov. 16, 2020.
Coronavirus vaccines are assembled at a Pfizer manufacturing facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Nov. 16, 2020.

Missouri expects to receive the first doses of coronavirus vaccine next week, state health officials said on Friday.

The federal Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve a vaccine from drug developer Pfizer. A panel of experts on Thursday recommended approval for the drug, and health experts say formal approval for emergency use is likely imminent.

Pfizer claims its vaccine is 95% effective. Missouri officials have said the immunizations are the key to bringing an end to the pandemic that has killed nearly 5,000 Missourians and sickened hundreds of thousands more.

The state will initially receive 51,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Those doses will be used to vaccinate workers at select health care facilities, Williams said. The state has prioritized health care workers and residents and workers in long-term care facilities to receive the first doses.

The federal government says it can send nearly 340,000 doses to the state by early next year, said Dr. Randall Williams, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services director. He compared the unprecedented development and distribution timeline to other landmark American projects such as the Apollo missions to the moon.

As soon as the Food and Drug Administration grants emergency approval, federal officials will ship the doses within 24 hours.

“So if they approve it on Sunday, I believe you will see people being vaccinated in Missouri on Thursday,” Williams said. “I know a facility is planning to do just that.”

The Pfizer vaccine must be shipped and stored at extremely low temperatures, which means it is being prioritized for health systems with medical storage capacity, Williams said.

The federal government’s Operation Warp Speed will ship the vaccines directly to health facilities, he said.

Williams expects the FDA to approve another vaccine from the pharmaceutical company Moderna shortly after Pfizer’s. Those doses need only be stored in a regular freezer and so will be less complicated to distribute, he said.

As more vaccine doses become available, they’ll be distributed to health care workers throughout the state. Williams expects most health care and nursing home staff and residents will be vaccinated by the end of winter.

Vaccines will become available to teachers, child care providers and other essential workers — who comprise half of Missouri’s 6 million people — in the spring.

Williams expects that anyone who wants to receive a vaccine in Missouri will be able to get one by summer 2021.

The state is not going to mandate people receive the vaccine, said Lisa Cox, a spokeswoman for the department.

Because the vaccine will have been approved on an emergency basis, even health care facilities can’t mandate that staff receive a vaccine as they do with flu shots and other immunizations, she said.

“These groups are not mandating stuff like that until it’s fully FDA approved and not just through the emergency use authorization, so that’s something that could come way down the road, but not anytime soon,” she said. “And it’s not going to be government-based.”

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Copyright 2020 St. Louis Public Radio

Sarah Fentem reports on sickness and health as part of St. Louis Public Radio’s news team. She previously spent five years reporting for different NPR stations in Indiana, immersing herself deep, deep into an insurance policy beat from which she may never fully recover. A longitme NPR listener, she grew up hearing WQUB in Quincy, Illinois, which is now owned by STLPR. She lives in the Kingshighway Hills neighborhood, and in her spare time likes to watch old sitcoms, meticulously clean and organize her home and go on outdoor adventures with her fiancé Elliot. She has a cat, Lil Rock, and a dog, Ginger.
Jaclyn Driscoll is the Jefferson City statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio. She joined the politics team in 2019 after spending two years at the Springfield, Illinois NPR affiliate. Jaclyn covered a variety of issues at the statehouse for all of Illinois' public radio stations, but focused primarily on public health and agriculture related policy. Before joining public radio, Jaclyn reported for a couple television stations in Illinois and Iowa as a general assignment reporter.
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