In the St. Louis area, medical offices that treat some of the area’s most at-risk patients don’t know when they will have access to the COVID-19 vaccine
ST. LOUIS – The COVID-19 pandemic suspended many routine doctor and dentist appointments in 2020. The vaccine news was a hopeful development on the path to normal life for patients, doctors, nurses, and dentists.
The Missouri Vaccine Priority List puts all physicians and health care professionals first so they can work safely and protect their patients from exposure.
However, the reality of the vaccine’s introduction has left many of the doctor’s offices in the area inaccessible.
“I was actually surprised to find out that my doctor wasn’t qualified for the COVID-19 vaccine,” Jon Shigemura told the 5 On Your Side I team.
Shigemura’s doctor specializes in patients with weakened immune systems. These are the people who will benefit most from immunizing others against COVID-19 as the vaccine is not yet recommended for them. Missouri’s vaccine rollout plan, however, left out the people working in his doctor’s office.
“I’ve learned that because he sees patients outside of a hospital setting, he is not considered a vaccine candidate,” Shigemura said. “I was actually a little hesitant about making my follow-up visit just because I knew it.”
The I-Team has received emails from nurses, dentists and other health care workers who were also concerned that official plans to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine appeared to be restricting access only to those working in hospital systems.
One dentist wrote, “We are in saliva and aerosols all day every day and we want help too,” adding, “I feel like a lost group.”
Dr. Alex Garza, incident commander for the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, admitted in a briefing Wednesday that he has also been contacted by health care workers who don’t see where they fit in current vaccine distribution plans.
“Just because they don’t work in a hospital or acute care facility doesn’t mean they don’t care for COVID patients or that they are not exposed to COVID,” Garza said. “We now realize that this is another challenge that was not included in the original planning with the state.”
When asked how the state plans to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to non-hospital healthcare workers, a representative from the Missouri Department of Health wrote, “We are working with regional implementation teams and other partners to establish these . ” the primary modes of vaccination based on best practices for health care workers who are not affiliated with major health systems or hospitals. “
They added, “These teams are not fully developed yet – we are not ready to start them as we are not anywhere near the next phase.”
Individual districts have drawn up their own plans, as Dr. Garza said the task force hopes to have a plan to vaccinate the previously abandoned workers by next week.
A representative from the St. Louis County Department of Health told the I-Team that the county is preparing to schedule vaccinations for health care workers who have not yet been reached. You should expect more details on Friday.
In Jefferson County, where the health department has not yet received doses of vaccine, hospitals and nursing homes remain a top priority, officials said in a briefing on Wednesday.
“Once these requirements are met, additional vaccine will be distributed to other providers in our area,” said Kelley Vollmar, director of the Jefferson County Department of Health.
St. Charles County is waiting for more vaccine doses too. The county allows medical and dental workers Register online for vaccinationsadding, “We have not been informed by the state of the timing or amount of vaccine delivery.”
In a statement, a representative from the St. Louis Department of Health wrote: “The St. Louis Department of Health is working to gather information from organizations that provide health care services to their frontline Phase 1A (patient) workers. Examples of these Organizations include medical offices, dental offices, home care, physical therapy, and personal mental health services.
“The state of Missouri has not yet allocated a vaccine supply to the city’s Department of Health, which means we did not have a vaccine available for health care workers.
“As we prepare to secure supplies, we will post additional information on how organizations can provide their vaccine roll-out roster.”
Shigemura said these delays put health care workers and their patients at risk.
“I think our doctors are our most valuable resource. They keep people out of the hospital and prevent this from spreading. So we have to do more,” he said.