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Missouri Health Workers Expected To Receive Coronavirus Vaccine Next Week

Coronavirus vaccines are assembled at a Pfizer manufacturing facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Nov. 16. Once the FDA approves the vaccine, Missouri will get its first doses within days, said Randall Williams, state health director.
Coronavirus vaccines are assembled at a Pfizer manufacturing facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Nov. 16.

Missouri expects to receive the first doses of coronavirus vaccine next week, state health officials said on Friday.

The federal Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve a vaccine from drug developer Pfizer. A panel of experts on Thursday recommended approval for the drug, and health experts say formal approval for emergency use is likely imminent.

Pfizer claims its vaccine is 95% effective. Missouri officials have said the immunizations are the key to bringing an end to the pandemic that has killed nearly 5,000 Missourians and sickened hundreds of thousands more.

The state will initially receive 51,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Those doses will be used to vaccinate workers at select health care facilities, Williams said. The state has prioritized health care workers and residents and workers in long-term care facilities to receive the first doses.

The federal government says it can send nearly 340,000 doses to the state by early next year, said Dr. Randall Williams, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services director. He compared the unprecedented development and distribution timeline to other landmark American projects such as the Apollo missions to the moon.

As soon as the Food and Drug Administration grants emergency approval, federal officials will ship the doses within 24 hours.

“So if they approve it on Sunday, I believe you will see people being vaccinated in Missouri on Thursday,” Williams said. “I know a facility is planning to do just that.”

The Pfizer vaccine must be shipped and stored at extremely low temperatures, which means it is being prioritized for health systems with medical storage capacity, Williams said.

The federal government’s Operation Warp Speed will ship the vaccines directly to health facilities, he said.

Williams expects the FDA to approve another vaccine from the pharmaceutical company Moderna shortly after Pfizer’s. Those doses need only be stored in a regular freezer and so will be less complicated to distribute, he said.

As more vaccine doses become available, they’ll be distributed to health care workers throughout the state. Williams expects most health care and nursing home staff and residents will be vaccinated by the end of winter.

Vaccines will become available to teachers, child care providers and other essential workers — who comprise half of Missouri’s 6 million people — in the spring.

Williams expects that anyone who wants to receive a vaccine in Missouri will be able to get one by summer 2021.

The state is not going to mandate people receive the vaccine, said Lisa Cox, a spokeswoman for the department.

Because the vaccine will have been approved on an emergency basis, even health care facilities can’t mandate that staff receive a vaccine as they do with flu shots and other immunizations, she said.

“These groups are not mandating stuff like that until it’s fully FDA approved and not just through the emergency use authorization, so that’s something that could come way down the road, but not anytime soon,” she said. “And it’s not going to be government-based.”

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Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
Jaclyn is the Jefferson City statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.