For months now, we’ve heard about the COVID-19 vaccine and the hope that it can slow the spread of the virus so that we can get back to a more normal life. But as KRPS’s Fred Fletcher-Fierro tells us, the roll-out of the vaccine in Southwest Missouri has created more questions than answers.
“We were one of the first states in the nation to submit our COVID-19 vaccine plan … and have now administered nearly 400,000 doses to Missourians.”
That is Missouri Governor Mike Parson last week, touting the State’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic during his 2021 State of the State speech. A pandemic that so far, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Service, has been a contributing factor in the death of at least 7,100 Missouri residents. During his State of the State speech, Parson only mentions the phase vaccine plan once, and while speaking about other topics such as economic and workforce development for minutes at a time. Drury University Professor of Political Dr. Dan Ponder watched the Governor’s speech and said COVID isn’t going anywhere.
“Generally speaking there’s a long way to go with COVID. He didn’t address masking because that’s been fairly controversial here. He said, that he’s going to leave it localities which means there’s a lot of variation, among the cities and counties.“
Essentially, the Parson administration is following the same or a similar playbook that it did when it didn’t implement a statewide mask mandate, instead leaving it to county and city to implement and enforce it’s own mask requirements, which caused confusion across Missouri. Some city adopted mandates, other didn’t. Dan Ponder from Drury University sees similarities in Parson’s reluctance to issue a statewide mask ordinance and the State’s COVID-19 vaccination plan
“So there’s not really a general plan from the State and that’s a big issue of course because so far they’ve been about roughly 450,000 Missourians infected and closing in on about 7,000 deaths.“
So how did Missouri go from being one of the first states in the country to submit a COVID vaccine plan to one of the states with the lowest level of vaccination rates among its residents? Since there doesn’t seem to be a state government plan, maybe the answer is local. Joplin City Council Member Phil Stinnett questioned the cities Health Director Ryan Talken at Monday nights city council meeting.
Phil Stinnett – “People are registering their names at various vaccinator locations and then waiting to get called, if people were to call the health department, does the health department have numbers available, do you not wish to do that, that could direct them to other vaccinators?“
Talken explains to Councilmen Stinett that no, the health department does not keep track of other vaccinators in the area or keep lists of individuals waiting to receive it.
Ryan Talken – “We are the city of Joplin Health Department, we are not keeping lists, but we are keeping a list, basically of places that are registered, vaccinators.“
Stinett goes on to ask Talken whether the Health Department is keeping names for future COVID-19 vaccination clinics. Talken responds, “yes, we did.” Stinett replies, “did we do that on the first one?” Talken says, “yes, we did.” He then explains that initially, the department was using the same methods to keep track of providing the flu vaccine to residents. Talken continues.
Ryan Talken – “In the past, for vaccines such as flu vaccines, that was the method that we used we started that we quickly realized that that was probably not the best approach so we discontinued that.“
With little or no clear guidance from state health officials, local health Directors like Joplin’s Ryan Talken are left to create and implement a program that will touch 10’s of 1,000’s of Southwest Missouri residents for years to come. 7th District Congressman Billy Long had few answers himself on COVID-19 vaccine availability when he visited Joplin’s Freeman hospital on Tuesday to speak with and hear from the doctors and nurses who have been on the frontline of the pandemic for nearly a year.
Rep. Billy Long – “We’re sold a bill on goods in Congress. We were told by the administration that we’re going to have the vaccine manufacturers. We want to make, to be able to manufacturer the vaccine, whether it works or not we want it on the shelf. Once it’s approved, we can get it in the arms immediately, which everybody wanted, if it’s not approved, we’re going to go ahead and pay the company for their failed vaccine.“
On Thursday, during the Governor’s weekly COVID-19 update, Parson said that starting next week, regions throughout Missouri hospitals will receive vaccine allocation based on the population of the area it’s delivered. The remaining vaccines will be delivered to city and county health departments and other enrolled vaccinator providers. But with bold promises before from the Governor, Southwest Missouri health officials can only sit and wait to see if they come through this time.
For K R P S, I’m Fred Fletcher-Fierro in Webb City