JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — More than half of the country is vaccinating teachers, but Missouri isn’t.
About 11% of Missouri’s population has been given at least their first dose, but unless you’re 65 or older, a health care worker or someone with pre-existing health issues, you can’t get a vaccine yet. And Parson said he’s sticking with the state’s plan, which means teachers have to wait, too.
“We’ve had a plan in place. This plan has been very successful from day one,” Parson said in an exclusive interview. “We’ve taken a balance approach in this state. As we are moving through this, it’s a little bit faster pace than what I thought it would be, so that’s the good news.”
Missouri started vaccinations in the middle of December. Since then, more than 680,000 Missourians have received at least their first dose. But mass vaccinations paused this week after weather caused safety concerns and then delayed shipments.
“We had built in time to schedule, three to four weeks out,” Parson said. “We knew there would be days in case something should happen, we go back there and make up those days up.”
The White House announced Friday that 6 million vaccines were delayed nationwide due to weather, including doses coming to Missouri. According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, around 186,000 Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were delayed in transit.
“We had some vaccine that we had left over because of the weather last week, to be able to bring into this week,” Parson said.
Parson also said only Missourians should be receiving the vaccine in this state, unless the vaccine is offered through your employer.
“I do not want people from out of state getting the vaccine with our Missouri allotment because that is absolutely not fair to the most vulnerable people in this state,” Parson said. “I was disappointed to even hear that was going on, but we are trying to make sure there’s a clear understanding that Missourians are the priority.”
One group of Missourians said they have waited long enough to be protected, but Parson said teachers will have to keep waiting.
“When the time comes, we will open it up to all teachers, and all teachers will be treated equal,” Parson said.
Missouri is vaccinating Phase 1A and Phase 1B, Tiers 1 and 2, but teachers fall under Tier 3.
“It’s just a matter of getting to them, and I think again — I just want to say I think that’s going to be at a faster rate than what everyone thought it would be,” Parson said.
Earlier this week, a handful of teachers wrote the state health director asking him to prioritize teachers. State Health Director Dr. Randall Williams said in a weekly press conference with the governor Thursday that his focus is older people. Parson agrees with him.
“We just have to take care of our most vulnerable population first,” Parson said. “You just have to be able to understand we have to be patient enough to let them go because they are the ones who really are extremely high risk. They are the ones that bog down the health care system and we have to take care of them.”
Currently, 28 other states are vaccinating school staff. When asked if he will move teachers up in line, Parson said no.
“We want to make sure those teachers feel safe, but the last thing I’m going to do is make a decision because of politics,” Parson said. “I’m not going to do that. One thing everyone should be prepared for is when that next tier comes open. How are you going to administer that vaccine to teachers?”
Nearly 94,000 doses are headed to Missouri this week, and Parson said it’s about distribution and getting those shots in arms.
“Our whole plan has been, how do we distribute these amounts, how do we keep them as equal as we can every week?” Parson said. “One area is not going to get any more than anybody else and that’s just the way we are going to do business until that vaccine becomes more available. There is no reason for us to shortchange anybody on vaccine.”
He also said the state is currently in the process of taking vaccines from CVS and Walgreens, who were federally partnered with long-term care facilities to vaccinate residents and staff, but did not use everything they were allotted.
During a press conference last month, Parson warned providers to not hold back any doses. Currently, he said he does not know of any doses being held back.
“I think we’ve made that very clear, that that’s not going to happen now,” Parson said. “I think there was some that was holding that second dose, but the last thing we need is anyone sitting on any doses if they can get them into people’s arms.”
When asked about his communication with the new administration in Washington D.C., Parson said it’s good.
“You can definitely tell it’s a new administration, and I’m not saying anything bad about that. I’m just saying it’s new and people are trying to make judgments in different situations on how they are doing things,” Parson said. “As far as communications, we’ve been in communication with them every week since the new administration has been in there. Conversations are good.”
Parson said more vaccine will be coming from the federal government to the state and hopes addition of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will get more Missourians vaccinated soon.
“The main thing we try to emphasize to the White House and the federal government is let the states do their job, just get us more vaccine,” Parson said.
During the interview, Parson said the state will be announcing some good news in the coming week or two about moving to the next tier. He believes Missouri will be vaccinating Tier 3 sometime in March.
As of Friday, Missouri ranked third in the country for lowest number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people.