Jun. 10—ST. LOUIS — In the penultimate briefing of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, the group's leader called for increased participation in areas where COVID-19 vaccination rates are lagging.
As vaccines become increasingly available in the St. Louis area — offered not only at hospitals and pharmacies but often at schools, churches and libraries, too — some age groups and areas in the St. Louis region have significantly lower vaccination rates, according to the task force.
"Please, please, please, make plans to get your COVID vaccine," urged task force leader Dr. Alex Garza, SSM Health's chief community health officer. "There is no charge for the vaccine, and it is exceptionally safe and extremely effective. ... If you start your vaccination now, you could be fully vaccinated and enjoying the protection and benefits from vaccination by that Fourth of July holiday."
On Wednesday, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announced the opening of a new vaccination site at the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus.
The county health department will begin offering the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines Friday at the Millennium Student Center, 17 Arnold B. Grobman Drive. The vaccines will be provided for at least six weeks, from 12:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays. Walk-ins are welcome, but residents can also schedule appointments at stlcorona.com.
Page said the site intends to address disparities in vaccination rates in north St. Louis County.
"Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is the safest and quickest way to protect St. Louis County families and return to the normal we all look forward to," Page said. "These new sites are critical to the county to continue expanding vaccine access to every eligible resident."
St. Louis County is also offering walk-up vaccinations at four public health department offices across the county and at fire district stations in Affton and Mehlville.
And two state-supported St. Louis vaccination sites will continue to offer the vaccines through June 15. Both Dellwood Recreation Center, at 10266 West Florissant Avenue, and St. Louis Community College at Forest Park, at 5600 Oakland Avenue, are open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. No appointment is necessary, and there is no cost.
Southwest Missouri sees an uptick
Though COVID-19 hospitalizations have declined locally since a peak in the winter, and infection rates have slowed in the region, parts of the state — namely, northern and southwestern Missouri — have seen worrisome spikes.
Springfield-Greene County Acting Health Director Katie Towns said 142 new cases of the coronavirus were reported Tuesday, and the seven-day average has reached 62, the highest level since Feb. 10. Meanwhile, 76 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in Greene County.
Towns, speaking at a news conference, said Memorial Day gatherings were a source of some of the recent spread, in part because new, faster-spreading variants are in the region. She said there was concern about the pending Independence Day gatherings.
Coronavirus-related cases and hospitalizations across the U.S. have dropped off sharply since the winter, due in large part to vaccinations.
Nationwide, 42.5% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Missouri lags with 35.8% of residents fully vaccinated, and rates in the southwestern part of the state are far lower than that.
State health department data shows 31% of Greene County residents have completed their shots, and several southwestern Missouri counties have full vaccination rates below 30% — and a few are below 20%.
St. Louis-area vaccine disparities
On Wednesday the St. Louis pandemic task force reported that, for the first time since spring 2020, there were fewer than 100 COVID-19 patients across BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke's Hospital facilities in the region. The group reported 20 new COVID-19 admissions, and 93 patients with confirmed cases in total across the hospitals.
But, Garza said, health care providers are concerned by the lower vaccination rate among younger age groups in the area.
As of June 1, 74% of people older than 75 have received at least one dose of vaccine, compared with 24% of 18 to 24 year olds.
The data includes St. Louis city and St. Louis County, along with Pike, Lincoln, Warren, Franklin, Washington, St. Francois, Perry, Ste. Genevieve, Jefferson and St. Charles counties.
The vaccines have helped slow virus transmission dramatically among older age groups. In late May, 19% of COVID-19 patients in the area were 75 or older, compared with 36% in early January, according to data released by the task force.
Now, a larger proportion of COVID-19 patients come from younger age groups. In late May, 32% of the COVID-19 patients were under the age of 45, compared with 14% in early January.
"We're making really significant progress," Garza said. "I don't want us to lose sight of all of those really significant achievements that we've made as a community. But we also need to make sure that we don't lose the momentum either."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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