In southeast Missouri, we’re used to traveling long distances before we reach a destination, but that was hardly the case for me in recent days as I moved from a House of Representatives office in the State Capitol to my new quarters as a member of the Missouri State Senate. It’s a short walk from one end of the Statehouse to the other, but the landscape is much different in the upper chamber.
As a state representative, serving House District 148 for the past eight years, some 35,000 residents of Scott and Mississippi counties relied on me to be their voice in Jefferson City. Now, I answer to nearly 180,000 people who live within the 27th Senatorial District. I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity to serve the people of Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Madison, Perry, Scott and Wayne counties, and I vow to make sure your concerns are heard at the State Capitol.
As the 101st General Assembly gets underway, my first job will be to learn the ways of the Senate so I can become more effective in representing my district and guiding legislation across the finish line. I come to the Senate with several legislative goals left unresolved from my time in the House. I have fought for several years to establish a statewide prescription drug monitoring program in Missouri, and I intend to finally get that done in the Senate. I have also proposed legislation to require background checks for adults enrolled in technical classes alongside traditional high school students.
While these legislative goals are dear to me, my priority will always be constituent services. I believe it’s my job to be a bridge between the people of the district and their state government. I can think of few times this is more important than now, when we’re finally beginning to move past the pandemic that has interrupted our lives for nearly a year.
Ever since the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine received emergency use authorization in mid-December, I have eagerly awaited its widespread distribution in southeast Missouri. The roll-out hasn’t progressed as quickly as I expected, so this week I asked some pointed questions during a meeting with representatives of the governor’s office and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS).
I learned that limited supplies of the vaccines – both the original Pfizer product and a second vaccine produced by Moderna – are being rationed across the United States. With about 2% of the nation’s population, Missouri is receiving 2% of the available vaccines. Currently, that works out to 73,000 doses per week. During our meeting, I pressed health officials about the availability of the vaccine in southeast Missouri. I was told that distribution in rural areas has been complicated by the requirement for the Pfizer vaccine to be transported and stored in extremely cold conditions. Appropriate technology is not available in parts of Missouri south of Cape Girardeau. Health officials assured me the situation would improve as distribution of the Moderna vaccine begins, as that product does not require ultra-cold storage.
The coronavirus vaccine is being distributed in stages, with the highest priority given to our must vulnerable populations, initially health care workers and long-term care facility residents and employees. DHSS officials have announced Walgreens, CVS and other pharmacies will streamline getting the vaccines to nursing home residents and staff.
Once all the willing “Phase 1A” individuals are inoculated, vaccines will be made available to Phase 1B Missourians, which includes essential workers and people whose age or medical conditions increase their risk for the virus. I was told vaccination of the first group should be completed in about three weeks, at which time vaccine distribution will expand to the phase 1B recipients. This second group numbers about 3 million Missourians, so it’s going to take some time to reach all of them. Eventually, vaccines will be made available to all Missourians who want them.
My meeting with the governor’s staff and health officials gave me confidence that they do understand the unique concerns and challenges we have in southeast Missouri and I feel they are working hard to distribute the vaccines as efficiently and fairly as possible, given the current supply. It’s no small task, and I appreciate all the work being done by the Department of Health and Senior Services, as well as local health officials. I’m also thankful for the governor’s leadership. I’m hoping the vaccine supply improves soon, so we can move forward as quickly as possible and put this pandemic behind us. If you’d like more information about COVID-19 vaccines and their availability in Missouri, you can visit the DHSS website at www.covidvaccine.mo.gov.