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Health care workers in Missouri start getting coronavirus vaccine

(AP) — Health care workers in both of Missouri’s urban areas received doses of the coronavirus vaccine Monday afternoon — the first people in the state outside of clinical trial participants to be vaccinated.

Thousands of other medical workers across the state will soon follow now that vaccinations have begun at the Mercy hospital system in the St. Louis area and Truman Medical Centers/University Health in Kansas City.

Frontline medical workers such as those who work in emergency rooms and COVID-19 units were the first to get the vaccine.

At Mercy Hospital South in St. Louis County, infectious disease specialist and chief medical officer Dr. Aamina Akhtar was the first to get a vaccination. She said it felt “just like my flu shot.”

“This is the light at the end of the tunnel,” Dr. Mark Steele, Truman’s executive chief clinical officer, said in a statement. “But it’s a very long tunnel. And so while the vaccine has arrived, we urge the public to continue to wear masks and practice social distancing.”

The Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer vaccine on Friday for emergency use.

Missouri received 51,675 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in its first shipment. The state expects to receive an additional 63,675 doses of the Pfizer vaccine next week as well as 105,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine if it also receives federal clearance. An expert panel is set to review the Moderna vaccine Thursday.

Staff and residents in long-term care facilities will begin receiving vaccines from that second week’s shipment. Employees at Walgreens and CVS pharmacies will be largely responsible for administering the vaccines at long-term care facilities under a federal agreement.

Both vaccines require recipients to receive a second dose to be most effective — 21 days later for the Pfizer vaccine and 28 days later for the Moderna vaccine.

Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said vaccinations for essential workers such as teachers, firefighters and police officers would probably begin in the first or second week of January, and everyone else should start getting shots by April. Everyone who wants a vaccination could have one by July, he said.

The vaccine arrived at a time when hospitalizations remained near record levels. Information from the state’s COVID-19 dashboard on Monday showed that 21 percent of in-patient beds and intensive care unit beds were available statewide, a slight improvement over last week. The dashboard showed 2,562 new confirmed cases and three new deaths. All told, Missouri has reported 347,603 confirmed cases and 4,514 deaths since the onset of the pandemic.

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