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St. Louisans Flock To Facebook For Tips On Finding Vaccine, Raising Questions About Equity

Coronavirus vaccines will soon be available in the St. Louis area. The vaccine can prevent people from developing the COVID-19 illness.
David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
People across the St. Louis region are continuing to use social media to find where to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

People across the St. Louis region are continuing to use social media to find where to get the COVID-19 vaccine, leading some to drive hours to find an available appointment.

Many are turning to Facebook to find vaccination appointments close to home and in rural communities across the state.

St. Louis County resident Trish Hartwig looked elsewhere last month when trying to find the vaccine for her 23-year-old son, who has a congenital heart defect. She was able to find an appointment for him about 40 minutes away in Washington, Missouri.

“I was crying tears of joy because he was getting [the shot],” Hartwig said. “I can understand the people who are super frustrated because they probably can’t take their parents or they’re just not willing to drive, and with this weather, it’s hard.”

Supplies of the vaccine are limited, and the demand is great as people are eager to get the shot. Regional health officials say people with resources are traveling to other areas when others can’t do so, but they don’t fault them.

Hartwig helped start a Facebook Group for people to share where they’ve received the vaccine and to help people find available openings in St. Louis and elsewhere in Missouri. She’s heard from people with elderly parents or loved ones with pre-existing conditions who meet the criteria to get the shot. But the limited number of available vaccines has made it difficult for many to find available slots.

“Every state needs more; we need more,” Hartwig said.

Dr. Alex Garza, leader of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said the limited number of doses presents a challenge for the high-risk people who need them.

“I understand that people are anxious and want to become vaccinated, so I can't fault people for traveling long distances in order for people to get access to vaccine, and in reality, any person who gets vaccinated is a good thing,” Garza said. “It does raise some questions about equity because clearly people that have the means to travel or the support system to travel are different than those that do not.”

Health officials in St. Louis have urged state officials to send more vaccine. State officials announced last week that they would send 33,200 doses to the region this week.

As of Monday, 10.3% of Missourians have received their first dose of the vaccine, while 7.1% of St. Louis County residents, 8.1% of St. Charles County residents and 9.1% of St. Louis residents have had their first shots.

Garza said the people who are 65 and older and 18- to 64-year-olds with a medical condition make up about 700,000 people in the region. He said it will take a while ,but health officials need to make sure they vaccinate the people who need it most.

“We have to understand that we need to be patient to get the most vulnerable, the highest-risk patients and people vaccinated first so that we can get to those other populations.”

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.