CITY HALL – The arrival of the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine in St. Louis may mean the end of the emergency is in sight. But, local officials said, the scourge will be around for a while.
“Although the vaccine has been approved, that’s far from over,” Acting St. Louis Health Director Dr. Fredrick Echols told members of the St. Louis Joint Boards of Health and Hospitals on Thursday. He urged people to maintain all prevention measures.
“We are all tired, we are fatigued. I know I am,” the board’s outgoing chair, Dr. Will Ross, said at the same meeting. “There is this collective sigh that maybe the worst is behind us.”
But, Ross cautioned, “I don’t want us to go through the rest of this winter and the next quarter with a false sense of security.”
At the end of the meeting, the board voted to name Rhonda BeLue as its new chair. She is Professor and Chair of the Health Management and Policy Program at Saint Louis University’s College for Public Health and Social Justice.
Fifteen percent of the tests in the city are coming back positive, Ross said. The goal is to be below 5 percent. About 90 percent of the intensive care beds at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, where Ross works, are filled.
The first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine to Missouri had only 51,675 units, Echols said.
Ross said much more would be available by early February.
“It’s important that the board really acknowledge that.”
For the board, the next steps are maintaining preventative practices and preparing for mass vaccinations.
The city health department is working with the St. Louis Science Center to develop educational materials on vaccines. It also seeks to ensure that the vaccines are equitably delivered.
An issue with the Pfizer vaccine is that it must be kept at 70 to 80 degrees below zero while it’s stored. Its shelf life is only six to eight hours after it gets warm. The Moderna vaccine, which is expected to be approved soon, must be kept at 30 degrees below zero.
The Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer vaccine last week. An advisory group of the FDA recommended approval of the Moderna vaccine on Thursday. The FDA was expected to okay it on Friday.
Separately, Mayor Lyda Krewson said she’d be willing to be vaccinated in public if it encourages others also to get shots.
In a regular briefing from her office on her Facebook page on Wednesday, she was asked whether she would receive the vaccine with other area public officials.
Krewson remarked that she couldn’t speak for others, “But I certainly will take the vaccine when it’s my turn, and I say that because I don’t want to get in line now or try to get in line where a health care worker or a firefighters or a police officer who’s out there interfacing every day. I don’t want to take a dose from them,” she said.
Krewson said that as more supplies become available, social media, newspapers, radio, brochures and othertmedia will make it clear when it’s time for various people on the priority list can receive their vaccinations.
“I don’t think you’ll miss it, because we’re all trying as hard as possible to communicate across multiple media streams to make sure the people know,” Krewson said.