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Vaccines may arrive quickly in St. Louis

CITY HALL – With federal approval of a vaccine for COVID-19 expected quickly, city officials are busy preparing to get it out quickly when the first doses arrive in St. Louis.

On Thursday, an advisory committee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will meet to discuss emergency authorization of the COVID-19 vaccines for ages 16 and older developed by two companies, Pfizer and BioNTech.  A meeting to  discuss the application by Moderna is set for Dec. 17. The FDA could make a decision quickly after that.

“If the vaccines are approved at that meeting, more than likely, you can expect to receive the first shipment of vaccine within seven to 10 business days,” acting city health director Dr. Frederick Echols told members of the Board of Aldermen’s Coronavirus Special Committee on Tuesday.

Echols said during the teleconference that physicians and other medical staff members who are most likely to get COVID-19 would be first to get the shots.

In accordance with guidelines of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those who are 65 or older would be next because they are more likely to get severe complications from COVID-19.

For months, the health department has been talking with the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force about how to distribute the vaccine.

Echols also said the city had gotten a storage unit for vaccines that must stay especially cold.

Echols also emphasized the importance of building city residents’ confidence in the safety of the vaccine.

“That’s going to be a huge barrier for individuals if they don’t understand that it’s safe; then they’re less likely to actually get it,” Echols said. “If they do not take the vaccine, that’s their choice, but we want to make sure that they have all the facts and all the information available to them.”

Echols also said that when people test positive, an investigator will contact them to determine whom they were in close contact with. Then someone will ask them to go into quarantine. They’ll also be asked to be tested no more than seven days after their last day of close contact.

“If they were in contact with other people in that office, they would all be quarantined and not reporting to work,” Echols said.

In another item at the meeting, the committee reviewed the results of a survey of city employees on their experience of the COVID-19 virus in the workplace. Most of the 378 people who responded weren’t happy with the experience.

Fifty-two percent of employees said they didn’t feel safe in the workplace, while 31 percent did feel safe. Seventeen percent had no opinion.

Forty-eight percent said they felt the city was not sufficiently supporting them during the pandemic, and 37 percent believed the city government was supporting them enough. Fifteen percent didn’t express an opinion.

Eighty-nine percent said they and their coworkers were required to wear masks.

Forty percent said they were able to work at home during the initial outbreak, while 39 percent couldn’t.

Most said they weren’t offered staggered workdays that would enable them to stay apart from coworkers. In comments, some said the city should go back to skeleton crews or staggered schedules to cut the number of people in City Hall.

They also said that there should be a citywide policy for quarantining and that employees should be more aware of any coworkers who tested positive for COVID-19.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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