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What You Need To Know About The Coronavirus Vaccine Shipping To Missouri This Week

Coronavirus vaccines will soon be available in the St. Louis area. The vaccine can prevent people from getting sick with COVID-19.
David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
Coronavirus vaccines will soon be available in the St. Louis area. The vaccine can prevent people from developing the COVID-19 illness.

The federal Food and Drug Administration has approved the first coronavirus vaccine for emergency use in the United States, finding the potential benefits of the shot outweigh any risks.

The federal government will begin shipping the vaccine to Missouri and other states within days. Pfizer, the company that made the vaccine, claims it is 95% effective at preventing the disease.

Public health officials have said a widely available vaccine is the tool that will ultimately control the pandemic that has killed nearly 5,000 people in Missouri, overwhelmed hospitals and devastated businesses.

Another drug company, Moderna, has submitted its vaccine to the FDA for emergency use authorization. The agency is reviewing the company's application and is expected to approve it next week.

Here’s what you should know about the coronavirus vaccines:

Who will receive the vaccine first?

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services this fall announced a plan that prioritizes giving the vaccine to health care workers, elderly people or those with underlying health conditions and nursing home workers and residents.

The federal governmentwill first ship around 50,000 Pfizer vaccinesthis week directly to Missouri health care locations. Those doses will be used to vaccinate workers at select health care facilities, said Dr. Randall Williams, the department’s director.

The state expects the federal government to send nearly 350,000 vaccine doses to Missouri by early next month and 2 million doses by late February, he said.

Who is next in line?

The next flight of people eligible to receive the vaccine in Missouri are essential workers, including emergency responders, child care workers and teachers. This group comprises a huge portion of Missouri’s 6 million people, Williams said. They should be able to receive the vaccine in spring 2021, he said.

There won’t be a statewide registry for essential workers, Williams said. Instead, there will be an honor system; people will simply be able to go to a health care provider or pharmacy, say they’re an essential worker and receive a shot.

Everyone remaining who wants a vaccine will likely be able to receive one in mid-summer 2021, state officials said.

Is the vaccine safe?

The FDA concluded the Pfizer vaccine is safe for adults. Clinical trials have not studied it in people younger than 16 or pregnant people, George said.

In the United Kingdom, a small number of peoplehad allergic reactions to the Pfizer vaccine, she said. Those who are pregnant or have a history of severe allergic reactions should talk to their doctors before receiving the vaccine, she said.

How does it work?

Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use the body’s natural defenses to build immunity. The vaccines prompt the body to make messenger RNA, which instigates an immune response against the coronavirus, said Dr. Sarah George, an infectious disease specialist at St. Louis University.

“They are basically mimicking our body's natural cellular processes,” George said. “Then what happens is your body's immune system sees this foreign protein and says, ‘Oh! This does not belong here!’ and makes antibodies and T-cells and gives you good protective memory immunity.”

Neither vaccine contains the coronavirus, she said. The shots won’t infect people or make them sick with COVID-19. Pfizer’s vaccine is in two doses to be given three weeks apart, and Moderna’s is administered in two doses four weeks apart.

Will people be required to get a vaccine?

The state will not require people to receive the vaccine, said Lisa Cox, a spokeswoman for the state health department.

The vaccines are being approved on an emergency basis. So even health care facilities can’t mandate that staff receive a coronavirus 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,” Cox said. “And it’s not going to be government-based.”

Should you wear a mask and social distance after you receive the vaccine?

Yes. Everyone should continue to try to protect themselves and others from the virus for the next 18 months, said George, the SLU infectious disease specialist.

Even though trials have shown vaccines in development are very good at preventing people from getting sick with COVID-19, they didn’t study how well it prevents the spread of the disease.

Additionally, the vaccines are not 100% effective, and there’s still a risk of contracting the disease, especially when the coronavirus is spreading quickly throughout the country.

“So we can't guarantee that the vaccine would protect you against coronavirus disease, we could say it was 90% effective in the trials. That 90% is not 100%,” George said. “The other issue is … we can't say that they're going to be equally effective in people with all underlying health conditions.”

Until communities reach herd immunity and a large percentage of the population has either gotten sick or received an immunization, people should remember they’re still at risk, she said.

How are hospitals deciding who gets the shot first?

The initial doses will not be enough to vaccinate every health care worker. For example, BJC HealthCare likely will receive about 10,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week, said Dr. Clay Dunagan, an infectious disease doctor and BJC’s chief clinical officer. But the health system employs nearly 35,000 health care workers who have regular contact with patients, including doctors, nurses, foodservice employees, reception workers and other nonclinical staff.

The health system will gather all those workers into a group and then sort them by age bracket. The oldest people will get the vaccine first because they face the highest risk.

Mercy Health officials expect to receive doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week, said Dr. John Mohart, incoming chief clinical officer.

“We've stratified or prioritized our workers based on who have the most direct contact with patient care are COVID patients,” Mohart said. “So we've included physicians and nurses, environmental service, dietary, so it's all our workers that have exposure.”

After that, Mercy will sort them by who has underlying health conditions. People who are at the highest risk of getting seriously sick if they contract the virus will be first in line, he said.

Will patients need to pay for the vaccine?

Under Missouri's vaccination distribution plan, any Missourian who wants the vaccine will be able to receive it at no cost.

“It is a free vaccine,” Williams said in October. “The syringes and the PPE and the gowns that go with it are all free. You are allowed to charge to administer it through normal mechanisms."

Officials expect the fee that providers can charge patients for administering the vaccine to be no more than $22.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: Petit_Smudge

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.