A new season, a new chapter in the fight against COVID-19 But is it a turning point?

FRED FLETCHER-FIERRO (HOST): It’s Morning Edition on KRPS, I’m Fred Fletcher-Fierro. October has arrived and with it the start of fall and cooler temperatures as we wind down the remaining months of 2021.

While the number of COVID-19 cases has slowly declined in Missouri, according to the State Department of Health, Missouri still has a rolling seven-day average of 29 COVID-19 related deaths. That is with 53.8% of Missouri residents getting at least one COVID 19 shot, and 47.8% completing their COVID inoculations.

At the bottom, Pulaski County, where only 19% of residents have gotten the first shot, and 16.3% have completed theirs.

Joplin Health Department

At the top, there’s Joplin. The city leads the state in the percentage of residents initiated and completing their vaccines. With 61.8% getting the first shot, and 55.7% completing their 1st and 2nd doses.

Ryan Talken is the Director of Joplin’s Health Department, he says there is plenty of praise to go around as to why the city’s COVID-19 vaccine rate is high and the number of COVID-19 has declined as a result.

RYAN TALKEN : Joplin is the hub of the Four States region here. We have a lot of pharmacies, hospitals, and clinics. The FQHCs are here. Various health departments also within the city, also, within counties. We have colleges here, all of those options are offering vaccines, we also have a lot of large employers here. And many of those large employers encourage vaccines and promote it by offering vaccine clinics on-site.

FRED: As of Sunday, according to city data available at AllThingsMissouri.org over the past two weeks Joplin has experienced an over 35% decline in the number of COVID-19 cases. The highest number of cases in Joplin are individuals between the ages of 20 and 29. They are also the least vaccinated age group in Missouri. While Joplin has been very successful in getting residents vaccinated, Talken says they’re still working against hesitancy.

RYAN : Well, we still have vaccine hesitancy, among certain groups. We’re working, we being the Joplin community partners, are working on trying to resolve some of that. So, we’re still working on it. We have plenty of individuals out there that we would like to see get a vaccine. Our highest vaccine rates are in the seniors, and then as the ages go downward the vaccine rates at that point start to lessen as the individuals get into a younger range.

FRED: This past May, Joplin remembered the 2011 tornado that devastated about ⅓ of the community. A city employee at the time, Talken still credits the relationships that were forged in the aftermath of that evening in mid-May as to why Joplin has risen above other areas in Missouri in terms of getting residents vaccinated.

Freeman CEO and President Paula Baker speaking at press conference

RYAN : One great thing about Joplin is that we are a pretty tight knit, close community. And so everybody works together, everybody promotes vaccines together, we share resources. And the very beginning of this, we had some larger events where everybody kind of chipped in and they not only provided equipment but also expertise and also staff. And so, I think that is a great testament to how the Joplin, Jasper, Newton Counties areas work.

FRED: President and CEO of Freeman Health System in Joplin, Paula Baker has been relentless when it comes to calling for Southwest Missouri residents to get vaccinated. She has also received criticism asking that she not push so hard. Though when asked why she believes why Joplin leads Missouri in the percentage of vaccinated residents, she replies.

PAULA BAKER : I think the people of Joplin are pretty smart. They see the wisdom in getting the vaccine. They understand that they are safe, they’re effective. I’m really proud of our community for taking that leadership role.

For 89 9 KRPS, I’m Fred Fletcher-Fierro

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