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POST-DISPATCH: St. Louis-area vaccination clinics go micro: Health departments scale down to find the unvaccinated

St. Louis-area vaccination clinics go micro: Health departments scale down to find the unvaccinated

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis-area health departments are bringing COVID-19 vaccines to churches, libraries and farmers markets in the hopes of reaching residents who are not yet immunized.

In the first few months of the year, mass vaccination events in convention centers and gymnasiums regularly drew thousands of people, many driving from hours away. Now, demand at many of the large-scale sites has slowed, and health officials say they are focusing more on targeted, smaller events.

Steve Montgomery, 41, was vaccinated Wednesday at the Lewis & Clark Library in Moline Acres, the first in a series of clinics planned at St. Louis County library branches over the summer.

Montgomery said he has been worried about COVID-19 because he has multiple sclerosis. He said he doesn’t mind wearing a mask, but never wanted to risk getting sick. He’s tried to get a COVID-19 vaccine for weeks.

“I wanted one when (my caretaker) got one, but it wasn’t available to me yet,” Montgomery said. “And I wasn’t sure how it would react to the MS drug I am on. I got the OK from my doctor today so we went looking for a vaccine site.”

Health officials say many of the most eager residents — and those with the ability to sign up online, take time off work and drive to regional clinics — have been vaccinated.

“The age of the mass vaccination event is pretty much over,” said Christopher Ave, spokesman for the St. Louis County health department. “It’s not enough to just throw out some vaccine in a huge space and tell people to come. We need to bring the vaccine to neighborhoods, to areas where people can get it quickly and easily.”

As of Wednesday, 41.2% of Missourians had received at least one dose of vaccine, and 34.1% were fully vaccinated, according to state data.

Smaller clinics are more resource-intensive, said Sara Evers, acting director of the St. Charles County health department. But they also allow for more one-on-one time between patients and staff, and can be less intimidating for patients than the mass events.

Evers said the county planned to administer around 275 second doses of COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday at the Family Arena — a site that, in the past, offered thousands of doses per day. The health department has planned a series of clinics, including at the YMCA in St. Peters, the Beale Street Market at the Streets of St. Charles, and St. Charles Borromeo Church near the St. Charles Historic District.

The Jefferson County Health Department has also shifted toward smaller events, and has been using mobile vans to bring vaccines to food pantries and businesses. Those events typically see 20 to 100 doses administered, compared with the larger, 1,500-dose events the county ran earlier in the year.

“It’s still 20 to 50 to 100 people that weren’t vaccinated before,” said health department spokeswoman Brianne Zwiener.

At the library in Moline Acres on Wednesday, 25 people were lined up to get vaccines as the event started.

Kristen Sorth, director of St. Louis County Libraries, said there are branches in many county neighborhoods with low vaccination rates.

“I think it just makes sense to continue to offer these, because they’re convenient, and people can check out books and use the computers while they’re here as well,” Sorth said.

Plus, the program takes advantage of the library’s established role in the community.

“We know that this is a trusted space in the community and it’s really convenient. When we started talking with the public health department we knew it was a win-win for the community and we really just pulled it together really quickly,” Sorth said. “We’ve got a great meeting room, we’re back open to the public and we pulled it together in like a week.”

Organizers brought other attractions to encourage vaccinations, including a DJ and the St. Louis Metro Market, which visits the library every week. The Metro Market is a nonprofit, mobile market run out of a retrofitted city bus and sells fresh produce in areas with little easy access to grocery stores.

“Getting the vaccine wasn’t as bad as I thought. I didn’t even feel it,” said 19-year-old Willeyia Ingram. “I was excited because I want to go around my older family members, and they’re more susceptible. So I wanted to make sure I was vaccinated to keep everyone safe.”

There will be a second library vaccination event Wednesday at the grand opening of the Eureka Hills Branch library. The vaccine site will be open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 500 Workman Road in Eureka, in west St. Louis County.

P.O. Box 410091
Saint Louis, MO 63141
Paid for by Page for Missouri, Sue Felling, Treasurer

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