JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — With from 20% to 30% of Missourians age 65 and older having received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, state health officials are optimistic the next priority group, such as educators and child care workers, could be vaccinated in March.
The state is currently vaccinating Phase 1A, and Phase 1B Tier 1 and Tier 2 populations. This includes health care workers, first responders, anyone 65 or older, and high-risk individuals. Phase 1B Tier 3 populations are those who work in education, child care, the communications sector, dams sector and energy sector.
Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Director Dr. Randall Williams told reporters during a virtual briefing Wednesday that additional vaccines are on the way, including the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine, after a meeting with Gen. Gustave Perna, the chief operating officer of federal program of Operation Warp Speed. Johnson & Johnson has asked for emergency approval of its vaccine, and Williams said they expect it to be authorized on Feb. 26.
“Similar to Moderna and Pfizer, we should be getting a fairly significant amount of the J&J vaccine, which if you remember, is just one shot, so that doubles our capacity,” he said. “They made a commitment to put out 100 million doses by June. Moderna and Pfizer have come out with a renewed commitment to put out 200 million. Gen. Perna was very optimistic that in April, May and certainly by June, we’ll have an ample supply of vaccine, including on the front end with the J&J. That was my specific question to him — can we expect a large distribution in the month of March, and he said yes, so we’re very excited about that.”
The state also announced this week that health care workers who have retired in the past five years and health care workers who are licensed in other states will be allowed to administer the vaccine in Missouri.
“We value our all-hands-on-deck approach as we continue implementing our vaccine plan, and partnerships will become especially vital as vaccines become more widely available in the future,” Williams said in a statement. “We have been listening to feedback from our colleagues from throughout the state, and we are so grateful to those recently retired health care workers who are willing to help their fellow Missourians as we anticipate the arrival of more vaccines as they become approved for use.”
And as part of a new federal program, 81 Walmart and Sam's Club pharmacies across Missouri will administer COVID-19 vaccines beginning Friday.
Additionally, 21 Health Mart independent pharmacies across the state will receive vaccine allocations soon. The vaccines require registrations and will follow the state's tiered system of who qualifies for the shots.
Although hospitalization rates are on the decline from two months ago, the state’s first case of a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus was reported in Marion County on Saturday. The B.1.1.7 variant was first detected in the United Kingdom in September 2020 and began being reported in the U.S. in December.
The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows 932 cases have been reported to the CDC nationwide as of Feb. 9, with 34 states reporting cases thus far. According to the agency, the variant is associated with increased transmissibility. Early reports found no evidence to suggest that the variant has any impact on the severity of the disease or vaccine efficacy.
Viruses constantly mutate, and coronavirus variants are circulating around the globe, but scientists are primarily concerned with the emergence of three that researchers believe may spread more easily. Other variants first reported in South Africa and Brazil have also been confirmed in the U.S.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.