CoronavirusNewsPoliticsThe SouthSider

Some elderly, sick St. Louisans travel for vaccine

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Some elderly and sick residents of the St. Louis area, fed up with waiting to get the call for a COVID-19 vaccine close to home, are traveling to distant places around the state to get their shot.

Butch Hartmann, 78, of Richmond Heights doesn’t have a computer but is calling any phone number he can get to find a place where his longtime girlfriend can get a vaccine. So far, she hasn’t found an appointment.

Hartmann, a disabled veteran, got his second dose Friday through the Veterans Administration. But his girlfriend, Betty Sharp, 74, is a cancer survivor, is overweight and has high blood pressure.

“She oughta be up there near the top of the list somewhere, and I can’t get any help,” Hartmann said.

State Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, obtained data from the state health department showing that through the week of Feb. 1, enough doses had been shipped statewide to begin vaccinating 10.4 percent of the population. A dozen counties outside the St. Louis region, however, got enough to give doses to vaccinate 20 percent or more of their populations. Cape Girardeau County topped the list with 54.2 percent.

St. Louis County, Missouri’s largest county, received enough vaccine for 8.6 percent of its population, the data showed. Before the week of Feb. 15, the St. Louis County Department of Public Health had gone three weeks without receiving any vaccine and was relying on doses shared from hospitals.

Dr. Elizabeth Bergamini is among those in the St. Louis region who have become “vaccine hunters.” Bergamini, 31, a pediatrician from Wildwood, helps St. Louis residents find vaccine appointments in other regions.

She has helped more than 50 people navigate online registrations and even drives them herself hours away to Hannibal, Rolla, Potosi, Cape Girardeau, Poplar Bluff and Sedalia, she said. Most are people ages 65 to 75 who have conditions such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes or kidney disease.

“I’ve had people reach out to me daily to help them or their elderly family members,” Bergamini said. “People are desperate. It is heartbreaking.”

Gov. Mike Parson’s office insists doses have been fairly distributed. The governor, a Republican, said Thursday said that 35 percent of the state’s shipments had gone to the St. Louis region, proportional to its population.

In response to questions about Schupp’s letter, Parson’s spokeswoman, Kelli Jones, wrote in an email, “Not every registered vaccinator will receive vaccine shipments every week, because simply we are not allotted enough vaccines to distribute the minimum shipment amounts to every eligible Missouri vaccinator every week.”

Schupp acknowledged the challenges but said she would like to see more transparency in who is getting shipped vaccine.

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