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Committee wants vaccinations for elderly, at-risk and unreached

CITY HALL – After a three-day vaccination clinic, members of a Board of Aldermen committee want the city Health Department to make sure it’s targeting the elderly, those at risk and the unreached.

In a video meeting on Wednesday, Acting Health Director Dr. Fredrick Echols told the Special Coronavirus Committee that 4,498 people received the vaccine on Jan. 28-30 at Union Station. They included police, firefighters, EMS workers, at-risk city employees, and the elderly, particularly those with health problems.

But Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed, who chairs the committee, told Echols that some who shouldn’t get shots right now are getting them.

“We heard a lot of discussion and things throughout the community about young, healthy people getting vaccinated at the site,” Reed said. “So how do you answer this?”

Echols said that in some cases, health care workers had gotten shots. “A lot of them are healthy, but because of their line of work, they’re eligible to receive the vaccine,” he said.

Reed and others spoke of issues that make it harder for some people to get the vaccine.

The federal government has announced plans to provide vaccines at those two drug stores. But Reed noted, “There are a lot of places in north St. Louis where you do not have a CVS Pharmacy or Walgreens Pharmacy. How are we going to address some of those issues so that people throughout the city, no matter where you live, you still have a place to get to?”

Echols also mentioned people who might find it hard to get to a clinic.
He said that a mobile unit provided by FEMA could bring vaccines to people who have difficulty getting out. And he said work had to be done to make sure there is equitable opportunity to receive the vaccine throughout the city.

Twenty-Third Ward Alderman Joseph Vaccaro said that a main way to get information out about a vaccination event was with emails and that many people signed up online. But what about people who lack access or expertise with the internet?

“Is there something that we could be doing or should be done if, say, you don’t have a computer?” Vaccaro asked.

Perhaps people could be contacted by phone or through a robocall system with a message that it’s their turn, and where and when to go, Vaccaro suggested.

“OK, I’m 80 years old, very sick. I want the vaccine. I don’t have a computer,” Vaccaro said. “How are you going to notify me when the only way you can notify me is by phone? Can you leave me a message?”

People can call a hotline at 314-657-1499 to sign up without going on a computer, Echols said. The health department has been advertising that widely.

Reed asked Echols to submit written information to him about his plans.

As for the general public, Echols said, “We’re asking individuals who aren’t eligible and those people who may not get called right now to just be patient with us. We’re advocating on their behalf to get as many vaccine doses to the city of St. Louis as possible.

“But we also want to make sure that we are properly managing that resource so none of it gets wasted.”

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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