Missouri officials work to help people get COVID-19 shots

Associated Press
Associated Press

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Health officials and community groups in Missouri are working together to help vaccinate seniors and other people who might have difficulty getting to a clinic for the coronavirus. 

Alberta Smith, 67, said she might not have made it to get her shot without a bus ride to the recent clinic.

"This is a blessing," Smith said  to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 

As part of the vaccination campaign, the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis is holding one-day vaccination events at senior apartments with the state and the Missouri National Guard. Health departments and hospitals have set up telephone hotlines to help people who don't have internet. Local health centers have sent staff to seniors' homes to get residents signed up, and organized buses to bring them to vaccine clinics.

"COVID-19 is really unprecedented in terms of, how deadly it is, that it's a communicable disease that's spread from person to person," said Rhonda BeLue, a public health professor at St. Louis University and chair of the city's Joint Boards of Health and Hospitals. "So there are a lot of unique things about COVID that really are going to require a serious all-hands-on-deck, urgent response to save the lives of the people in the St. Louis region."

Officials say the elderly are far more likely to die or have severe cases of COVID-19. In Missouri, about 17% of the state's population is 65 or older but that group accounts for 85% of the deaths attributed to the virus.

St. Louis's health director, Dr. Fredrick Echols, said that eventually vaccination events could be held in churches and other places that are easy for area residents to access. Officials will evaluate different sites in the city, to ensure they have enough parking, and are spacious enough to hold a socially distanced event. And FEMA is planning to provide a mobile unit to the city, to help vaccinate residents who are homebound.

"We have to stop putting the onus on the people in the community, and we have to do that heavy lifting for them," Echols said.