Missouri Governor Mike Parson announced Thursday that the state was initiating the next step in its COVID-19 vaccine rollout: phase 1B. That phase is divided into tiers, the first and second of which will be active starting January 18.
When the second tier activates, an estimated 2.5 million Missourians will be eligible for the vaccine, but the vast majority of them will still have to wait. While the state Department of Health and Senior Services lists more than 1,100 vaccinators on its new vaccine informational website, many are still waiting on more shipments of the vaccines.
Nevertheless, the governor's announcement started a deluge of calls to vaccinators, including the Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services department. Scott Clardy, the assistant director, said the department has been inundated with calls since Thursday afternoon.
"It kind of caught us off guard a little bit. We’re really happy about it, but the vaccine supply has to mirror that," Clardy said.
Complicating matters, Clardy said the department wasn't notified of the specific details of the new tiers until just before the governor's announcement. Similarly, MU Health Care confirmed it also learned those details for the first time Thursday, and Boone Hospital said it was aware of the tiers, but they weren't clearly defined until the announcement.
Within the day, MU Health Care published an online survey to gather information about 1B eligible people interested in getting vaccinated. The Columbia/Boone County health department put out a similar survey the week before.
Clardy explained the survey was part of the planning his department was able to do without the specific details released Thursday. Local health officials are on weekly calls with the state health department, and Clardy anticipated from those an announcement would come on Friday. Other preparations his department was able to carry out included reaching out to law enforcement in the county to gauge interest in the vaccine.
Local health departments' social media pages reflect the flood of interest in vaccinations that followed the governor's announcement. The Callaway County Health Department, for example, asked residents on Facebook for patience, writing it learned of the new tiers through a local news report.
The short notice to local health officials reflects a pattern the state has followed since the start of the pandemic. Local health departments did not get advance notice of the state's stay-at-home order in April, despite being tasked with enforcing its provisions.
Now, the governor's announcement has put local health officials in the position of telling the communities they serve, they actually can't get the vaccine yet.
"The truth is, we're still in 1A," Clardy said. "We’re quickly moving to 1B, but even though on Monday we can move to phase 1B tier 2, we do not have the vaccine supply to do that yet." Clardy said instead his depatment will start phase 1B tier 1, which includes first responders, next week.
For its part, the state says it knows the supply still isn't there to vaccinate everyone in the first two tiers of 1B. Instead, it expects vaccine supply to increase drastically in the coming month, and it wants to give flexibility to vaccinators to use up as many doses as possible.