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Parson says he's being fair with vaccine distribution

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With the temperatures in the teens, Liberty Utilities offered use of its drive thru bay to the Polk County Health Center team on Thursday, Feb. 11, as the center continues to roll out COVID-19 vaccines. Pictured here, Chastity Willers, Michelle Morris and Wanita Lister carefully work to prepare the vaccine for the community.

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson adamantly dismissed claims of inadequate and uneven distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to urban versus rural areas during a recent news conference.

“I want to be perfectly clear about this,” Parson said. “The idea that because I come from rural Missouri, and there’s some magical divide, that I am taking care of rural Missouri any more than I am urban areas, is totally false.”

He said each region of the state will be treated equally, and vaccine allocations are decided based on many different factors, such as population and geography.

During the meeting, Parson took multiple jabs at state media outlets, and his tone reflected his displeasure regarding criticism of the vaccine rollout. In particular, Parson said complaints from Alex Garza, the director of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, were false, misleading and meant to spread fear and panic.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported complaints from Garza earlier this month. Garza told the Post-Dispatch that he does not believe St. Louis is being allocated the amount of vaccines needed to provide for the population size. The region represents 37% of the state’s population but has received far less than that percentage of vaccine, Garza said.

Parson said the St. Louis region has been receiving its proportionate share of vaccine.

Randall Williams, the director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, said the allocation for the St. Louis region will continue to be “pretty proportional to the population.” He said the idea of neglect to urban areas is a perception problem.

“It’s never going to be perfect. It’s never going to equally match the percentage of a county,” Williams said. “We take other considerations into mind, we look at population, but we also look at where our elderly senior citizens are. And they are proportionally in more rural areas if you look at the percentages.”

Williams and Parson spoke of the recent successes the state has seen concerning decreasing positivity rates and hospitalizations.

Parson said the data has shown that Missouri is doing the right thing.

“Currently, at 7.6%, Missouri’s positivity rate is under 10% for the first time since October,” Parson said. “Our seven-day average case rate is at its lowest since the summer, and hospitalizations also continue to decline.”

When asked about the new variant of the virus appearing in the state, Williams said there has still only been a single case reported. His department is conducting surveillance testing every two weeks, where 25 samples that have been identified as irregular are sent to clinicians in the state.

In addition to this testing, Williams said the state is also making it possible for clinicians to contact the department if they suspect a patient might have the new variant.

“We’re adding this layer to it to bring doctors in to use their clinical judgement to alert us if there are more cases,” Williams said.

This report is written by Missouri School of Journalism students and editors for publication by MPA member newspapers in print and online.

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