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Mass vaccination sites planned across Missouri

(AP) — Missouri plans mass vaccination sites by the end of the month in an effort to get more protection against COVID-19 to more people, Gov. Mike Parson said Wednesday.

The governor, a Republican,  said he would activate the National Guard to help with new vaccination sites in each of the nine Missouri State Highway Patrol regions. Specific dates and locations for those sites were not announced. Each will be capable of administering as many as 2,500 doses per day.

The state also plans to send “targeted vaccination teams” to St. Louis and Kansas City, where they will work with clergy to help get vaccinations to “vulnerable populations.”

“The purpose of all these vaccine teams is to support our existing vaccinators and provide additional vaccination sources for eligible Missourians that may otherwise have a hard time receiving one,” Parson said.

Then-President Donald Trump’s administration moved last week to speed up the delivery of shots to more people. Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Director Dr. Randall Williams said he had already been contacted by officials with new President Joe Biden’s administration, who sought details about Missouri’s plan.

Williams said at least 250,000 Missourians had been vaccinated so far. The state’s initial doses have been for people such as health care workers and residents and staff at long-term care facilities. This week, the state began making vaccines available to those at increased risk of severe illness, including people age 65 and older and any adults with certain health conditions.

State Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, is a respiratory physician, and he said mass vaccination sites could be good. But he said it also would be helpful to distribute vaccines through doctor’s offices. Onder said many physicians were keeping lists of patients who they believe are in the greatest need of the vaccine and would come in quickly to get it, whereas mass vaccination sites are more indiscriminate about who receives the shots.

“The problem is we’ve expanded the universe of people eligible to get the vaccine, but we don’t have enough of it to vaccinate that next universe of people,” Onder said.

Parson said 76,000 additional doses were expected by the end of this week, and another 76,000 doses next week. He acknowledged that “current demand far outweighs the current supply,” and urged patience.

“We’re going to get to everybody —  we’ll get to everybody,” Parson said.

Some indicators suggest progress in the state’s battle against the virus. The state’s positivity rate on Wednesday was 12.4 percent — about half the rate in November.

Hospitalizations are down, too. The state’s COVID-19 dashboard on Wednesday showed 2,397 people hospitalized with the virus, down 52 from Tuesday, and the seven-day average dropped to 2,448. That was the lowest seven-day average since mid-November.

“Although we are seeing signs of hospitalizations declining, our health care system still remains strained,” Parson said.

Experts have blamed the big spike in hospitalizations across the country over the past two months on get-togethers for the holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.

The number of new cases also appears to be on the decline. After daily reports of more than 3,000 new cases through much of December, recent daily counts have been far lower, including 1,592 new cases on Wednesday. The state also reported 198 deaths, 156 of which had not been previously reported. Of those 156, seven occurred in November, 109 in December and 40 earlier in January.

All told, the state has reported 441,789 confirmed cases and 6,461 deaths since the onset of the pandemic.

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