PRINCETON, Mo. — According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Missouri is one of the worst states in the country at getting people vaccinated.
To combat that Gov. Mike Parson deployed the Missouri National Guard to set up mass vaccination sites. However, some are worried they’re being set up in the wrong places.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Missouri set up a mass vaccination site in the town of Princeton, located in Mercer County near the Iowa border. The county’s population is fewer than 4,000, and Princeton’s population is fewer than 1,200.
“We are a very small, very rural area,” said Gina Finney, Mercer County Health Department administrator.
Dozens and dozens of appointments were left open both days, even with Missourians allowed to travel to Princeton from across the state.
Meanwhile, larger cities like St. Louis and Kansas City are begging for mass vaccination sites as they struggle to keep up with the demand.
Jayne White, regional implementation manager for the Princeton site, said the state uses several factors to make sure they give the vaccine out evenly.
“They are looking at numbers, vaccine rates, COVID rates, things like that to try to make sure that it fits into the picture well and that there is an even distribution,” White said.
However, because of the large number of open appointments at many rural mass vaccination sites, Missourians who live in metropolitan areas are driving hours to get a shot.
“We have seen people travel from 2 to 4 to 6 hours or more to come to get their shot because of availability,” Finney said. Princeton is over hours from Kansas City.
Mayor Quinton Lucas is advocating for sites in Kansas City because not everyone is able to travel hours to get to a vaccination site.
“It is tough for folks to say, well, your best opportunity is this very long drive. Some folks have been able to do it, but a lot of people haven’t,” Lucas said. “So we absolutely look forward to the state creating more opportunities for us to have mass vaccination in Kansas City.”
There has been one mass vaccination site, of sorts, in the Kansas City area. Operation Safe, a coalition of cities, health care institutions and employers in Clay County, has been operating a large site at Cerner’s headquarters in North Kansas City.
In March, the state will move to its next vaccination tier, Phase 1B-Tier 3, making more than half a million Missourians eligible for the vaccine — and likely putting more of a strain on metro providers struggling to get their hands on vaccines.
The state encourages residents to utilize its online vaccine registry. At the end of the form, each person who registers will be told which Missouri phase and tier they will qualify for a vaccine.
Parson said each person who registers will be notified when the state begins vaccinating for their particular group and get alerts on mass vaccination events in their area.