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St. Louis Announces COVID-19 Vaccine Requirement For All City Employees

Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine
File Photo / Kayla Drake
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said she is requiring city employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as incentive programs have not worked.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones announced Wednesday that the city will soon require its 6,000 employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine or take a weekly coronavirus test.

The requirement comes as more than 900 people test positive for the coronavirus each day in the St. Louis area and new cases rise among younger children and teenagers.

“With the delta variant spreading like wildfire across our state, [the virus] is easier to catch and much more transmissible,” Jones said. “We’re trying to do everything we can to look out for the health and safety of our city employees.”

A vaccinated employee in the mayor’s office recently tested positive for the virus, Jones said. Last month, the city’s health department encouraged county government employees and residents to quarantine after a city resident whoattended a packed St. Louis County Council meeting tested positive.

The vaccination rate varies among city departments, Jones said. Just over 50% of police officers have gotten the vaccine. The rate is slightly higher among fire department employees, she said.

“We were trying the carrot before the stick,” Jones said. “We’ve had a vaccination incentive program out there for a month now, and we’ve seen a very slow uptake.”

Several local health systems, businesses and schools arerequiring employees to be vaccinated. In July, the region’s four largest hospital systemsannounced all employees will need to be vaccinatedagainst COVID-19 by fall.

Earlier this week, the Ferguson-Florissant School District in north St. Louis County announced it would require all staff to be vaccinated. Employees of the City of Webster Groves will also need to be vaccinated by Oct. 5, unless they have a religious or medical objection.

Area health providers that provide vaccinations likely will remain busy throughout the fall.

On Tuesday, officials from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services recommended people with compromised immune systems receive a third dose of vaccine.

Those who have medical conditions that weaken their immune systems or who take drugs that weaken immunity, including those receiving chemotherapy or who have had organ transplants, need extra protection, said Dr. Alfred Kim, a Washington University rheumatologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Such patients need higher amounts of vaccine for their bodies to create a strong immune response, he said.

“There is emerging data showing that those people who have been vaccinated but who are immunosuppressed, those are the ones who are showing up in the hospital,” Kim said.

People who have received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines should get a third dose, he said. Those who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should not yet seek a third dose until more research is published, officials at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

On Wednesday, federal health officials announced that even people who aren’t immunocompromised should get booster shots of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines eight months after their second dose.

It’s normal for vaccine-induced immunity to wane over time, Kim said. It’s one of the reasons people need booster shots for other viruses as well, he said.

“The immune response is starting to decrease in some people when you look at six to seven months post-vaccination,” Kim said. “This is thought to confer slightly decreased protection against COVID-19. The other issue is the delta variant is so aggressive.”

The high rates of the more contagious version of the coronavirus circulating in Missouri mean people need the most robust immune systems possible, Kim said.

Health officials say people should try to get the same brand of vaccine they obtained previously and should wait at least 28 days between their second and third doses.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Dr. Alfred Kim's first name.

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Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.