Even though Missouri plans to distribute the first round of COVID-19 vaccinations later this month, the state health department is predicting a post-Thanksgiving surge in cases could happen as early as this weekend or next week.

Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said Friday that the state isn't out of the woods even with the promise of a vaccine around the corner.

“As we come out of Thanksgiving — at least as we look around the country and look at here in the Midwest — we are in a better position than we’ve been in,” Williams said. “However, all of us in the country, including the Midwest, are having increased cases compared to what we had last summer.”

The health department on Friday reported 18,211 new cases in the past week, or roughly 2,600 new cases a day on average. At least 89 people have died in the past week, according to the agency. Case reports over the next week should show whether there's been an increase following Thanksgiving family gatherings, Williams said.

The next step of combating the coronavirus is prioritizing vaccines. During an online news conference Friday, Williams told reporters about the state's vaccination plan, which prioritizes giving vaccines to all hospital workers, nursing home residents and nursing home staff by the end of the year.

Vaccines will be available to all hospital staffers, including cleaning workers and clergy, he added. Once the initial groups receive their first and second doses of the vaccine, Missouri plans to open vaccinations to teachers, essential workers and people at higher risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19.

At-risk groups include people age 65 and older, people with diabetes or other high-risk illnesses, racial minorities, people struggling with homelessness, and people living and working in group homes. Staff at critical manufacturing sites also will be eligible.

Williams said the Department of Health and Senior Services is particularly focused on encouraging vaccinations among racial minorities, whom Williams said have historically had concerns about vaccinations “for good reasons.”

“We're very sensitive to that,” he said, “especially based on what we've learned: that those communities can be more vulnerable.”

A vaccine will initially become available in a limited quantity once it is proved safe and effective, when it is approved for emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, and when the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has provided its recommendations on the use of the vaccines.

The state is expecting to receive nearly 340,000 doses of vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna later this month. Williams said this should be enough to cover everyone in the priority groups.

“There’s about 58,000 long-term care residents right now, and our maximum capacity at our 1,300 facilities is about 80,000,” he said. “There’s about 70,000 staff that take care of them. We have about 15,000 physicians in Missouri and close to 6,000 medical students. Then, we have 130,000 nurses.”

The vaccinations will be distributed to sites under a contract with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Walgreens and CVS. Williams said Missouri plans to begin vaccinating nonessential workers in May. Anyone in the state who wants a vaccine should be able to receive one by July or August, he said.

“We’ll have the services of the National Guard through March, so we’re very much looking at ways to use them logistically,” said Williams. “They’ve been such a tremendous help with our testing.”

Lisa Cox, spokeswoman for DHSS, said the vaccine will be free, but providers are allowed to charge an administration fee. She said that no one should be denied a vaccine because of financial reasons.

Williams said in order to reach herd immunity, about 75% of Missourians would need to be vaccinated.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

About vaccines

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and partners across the state continue to make preparations in advance of a vaccine arrival, which is anticipated to take place by the end of 2020. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has identified the purposes of a COVID-19 vaccine as:

• Decrease death and serious disease.

• Preserve functioning of society.

• Reduce extra burden that COVID-19 is having on people already facing disparities.

• Increase the chance for everyone to enjoy health and well-being.

To learn more about COVID-19 vaccine developments, visit MOStopsCOVID.com.

Source: Office of Gov. Mike Parson

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News reporter

Kimberly Barker is a news reporter for The Globe who covers Northeast Oklahoma, Southeast Kansas, as well as Carl Junction, Carthage and Webb City.