JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMOV.com/AP) -- Fighting back against critics of his state’s vaccine rollout, Missouri Governor Mike Parson on Thursday said leaders in the St. Louis area are misleading the public, taking aim at Dr. Alex Garza, who heads the St. Louis Pandemic Task Force.
The issue, Governor Parson said, is the perception that the state’s rural communities and counties are receiving more supply of vaccine, per capita, than St. Louis and Kansas City, the state’s largest metropolitan areas.
Data provided by the state has consistently shown that the St. Louis region has received fewer doses than its population would suggest it should get relative to the state total.
The area, called Region C, has 37% of the state's population but only 15,600 vaccines have been allocated to the region's health care system — 17% of the vaccines allocated by the federal government.
The governor said those 15,600 doses were sent every week to four hospitals that partnered with the St. Louis County Health Department to distribute the vaccines, and were proportionate to the region's population. He noted the region was receiving vaccines from other programs, such as for long-term care facilities and vaccinations at pharmacies, meaning the idea that the region was getting only 15,600 doses was “absolutely false.”
The most recent data provided by the state on Wednesday showed the region will receive roughly 34 percent of the available vaccines next week, still lower than the region's percentage of the population.
“Dr. Garza has made statements that are absolutely false,” Parson said. "He has lived with fear and panic rather than a sense of balance and he completely ignores the diverse populations of our state.”
The statewide vaccination rate is 9.4% according to the state's COVID-19 vaccination dashboard, but St. Louis City is at 6.6% and St. Louis County is at 8.3%.
Parson said the St. Louis region has received its fair share of vaccine doses, saying the region receives 15,600 doses weekly through the high throughput partnership alone.
“There are some out there who want to push the narrative that we are not efficiently and adequately administering COVID-19 vaccines, especially in the St. Louis area. This is simply not true. As you know we recently announced a partnership with selected hospitals in each region of the state to support high throughput vaccine distribution. The state is committing approximately 53% of our weekly vaccine allocation to these hospitals. In the St. Louis area, BJC, SSM, Mercy, St. Luke’s, St. Louis County Health Department makes up the Region C high throughput providers,” Parson said.
“These providers were chosen because those 65 and older, and those at high risk are more likely to have established connections with these hospitals and the hospitals have the infrastructure in place to administer it at a timely manner. Many want the public to believe that 15,600 doses in all that the St. Louis region received last week, but that is totally false.”
The St. Louis region will receive additional COVID-19 vaccines next week, Missouri officials announced Wednesday.
Parson pushed back on the idea that rural communities are being favored over more densely-populated metropolitan regions, saying rural areas have a higher concentration of older residents.
"We look at geography and population, but we also look at where our elderly populations are and there and more commonly in rural areas," he said. "The idea that because I come from rural Missouri and there is some magical divide, that I am taking care of rural Missouri more than I am urban areas is totally false."
Missouri ranks 50th out of 50 states in the U.S. according to CDC vaccine distribution data.
Dr. Garza sent this statement to News 4 responding to Parson:
"The most important thing right now is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly, safely and equitably as possible. The recent increase in the allocation of vaccine from the state will help us vaccinate more Missourians in our region. We are confident in the way we estimate the number of doses received by Region C, and our goal has always been to ensure fair and equitable distribution of vaccine with all of our partners. We will continue to work with the State of Missouri and our regional partners as we have throughout the pandemic, to care for our community and increase access to the COVID-19 vaccine."
Parson also said the St. Louis region has 50,000 doses of the vaccine that haven't been reported as administered. News 4 checked with the task force and found out there are currently 47,900 doses that haven't been administered because they are second doses meant for people who already received the first dose. News 4 also found out the region is down 1,384 doses because those were taken out of the second dose stockpile for individuals needing the doses this week.
Starting next week, the St. Louis County Health Department will be getting 3,000 doses directly from the state, something that will reportedly continue over the next few weeks. The health department has partnered with area fire districts to get the job done.
"There were some residential facilities that don't quite fall into the parameters of what the federal program could cover, so they were sort of left out of the initial round vaccinations were nursing home residents got vaccinated, these folks have not," said Christopher Ave with the St. Louis County Health Department.
St. Louis-area hospitals will also go from getting about 15,000 doses to 21,000 doses next week. The hospital systems are expected to share their allotment with the county health departments.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story stated the St. Louis region had received 34 percent of the available doses in the state. That figure represents the proportion of vaccines the region will receive next week relative to the state's allotment, not what has been previously provided.