St. Louis leaders spending millions on vaccine incentives, outreach

The Center Square) – As COVID-19 cases rise throughout southwest Missouri, government leaders in eastern Missouri announced plans to spend millions in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to promote and incentivize vaccinations.

Missouri averaged 846 new COVID-19 cases during the last seven days and has the second-highest number of positive cases (15) per 100,000 people, according to data published by the New York Times. The number of positive cases increased 53% in the last two weeks as Missouri has 19 of the top 50 counties ranked by positive cases per 100,000 people.

Most of the Missouri counties in the rankings are in the southwest quadrant of the state. Springfield, in Greene County, is the largest metropolitan area in the region and its website reported an average of 127 new cases per day during the last week. The average was 38 during the first week of June.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services website shows 39% of Missourians are fully vaccinated. The vaccination rate in Greene County is 33%. In Taney County, 50 miles south of Springfield and the state’s largest tourism destination (Branson), the vaccination rate is 25%.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, both Democrats, each announced programs this week to increase vaccinations.

Page announced the county’s department of health is launching a campaign to promote eligible students to get the COVID-19 vaccination along with other annual back-to-school immunizations. In addition to providing vaccinations at county clinics, the health department is working with school nurses to provide additional opportunities for vaccinations.

“Because it can take more than a month to become fully vaccinated, the time to start is now,” said Page, a medical doctor and anesthesiologist.

Page noted the county’s vaccination rate for teenagers was about 30%, the lowest of all age groups. The statewide rate for those ages 12 to 14 is 14% and for ages 15 to 24 is 26%.

“Consider it part of your back-to-school list,” Page said. “This is arguably the most important tool your students need for the new school year. When you look at total cases week over week, COVID cases have increased nearly 25% in St. Louis County. And these new cases are preventable.”

On Tuesday, the St. Louis County Council voted 5-2 to approve $875,000 in ARP funds for $50 and $100 gift cards as an incentive to get the vaccine. Republican council members Ernie Trakas and Mark Harder opposed using the funds for incentives.

Page said roughly $500,000 will go to grocery cards and $250,000 to gasoline cards. However, he said parents or guardians of those getting vaccinated will receive the cards – not the teens.

“I support this program if that’s what it takes to get those sitting on the fence to get a shot in their arm,” Page said.

Page also announced plans for a block-by-block, door-to-door campaign “in vulnerable neighborhoods to ensure residents have the information they need about the vaccine and to ensure they have access to a shot.”

Jones is proposing $6.75 million in ARP funds for mobile vaccination clinics, community outreach and education, additional community health workers and to improve the public health infrastructure.

Jones announced the city’s health department is joining the national “Shots at the Shop” initiative to expand vaccine awareness, education and engagement in Black-owned barbershops and beauty salons. The initiative is a collaboration between the Black Coalition Against COVID, SheaMoisture, the University of Maryland Center for Health Equity and the Biden administration. About 1,000 barbershops and beauty salons across the country will receive a $1,000 grant form SheaMoisture for participating in the initiative.

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