O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) — Missouri's governor and health director on Thursday warned local entities responsible for COVID-19 vaccinations to stick with the state's priority list or risk losing future distributions.
Gov. Mike Parson used part of his weekly news conference to raise concerns about vaccinators going rogue and allowing some people who are not yet eligible for the vaccine to jump ahead in line. Neither Parson nor Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Director Dr. Randall Williams would name specific vaccinators or their locations.
Missouri is currently vaccinating people 65 and older, those with underlying health problems, and others who are highly vulnerable to the virus.
"I understand everybody wants a vaccine and people want to jump the line," Parson said. "We have to be disciplined because right now, with the supply that we have, we have to put it to the most vulnerable people and the people at the highest risk."
Williams said his office was contacted by a pharmacist about one vaccinator who wasn't adhering to the guidelines. Williams called the CEO of the company involved, who confessed.
"Made it very clear to him that future distribution is based on following the rules, and did he really want to hurt his community by not being a good steward of the vaccine we entrusted him with? It's not going to happen again there, I don't think," Williams said.
The vaccination rollout has been slower than hoped across the U.S., and especially in Missouri. The state ranks 49th among all states in vaccination rates, ahead only of Idaho.
In an effort to boost vaccinations, Parson has enlisted the National Guard to operate more than two dozen mass vaccination sites in mostly rural areas. Also, on Tuesday, Parson's office announced that select hospitals will receive just over half of the state's weekly vaccine allocation through the end of February.
Williams said he remains hopeful that by June or July, "every Missourian who wants a vaccination can get one."
The pandemic also has taken a toll on thousands of workers, some of whom mistakenly received more in unemployment benefits than they should have last year.
Unemployment offices around the country were slammed with applications due to coronavirus-related shutdowns. Adding to the confusion were new federal emergency unemployment programs established to extend jobless benefits and help self-employed workers who historically have been ineligible.
As a result, many people received more money than they should have. Parson said the money should be paid back, even if it means setting up a payment plan.
"At the end of the day ... if somebody got more money than they should have got, you should ask for it back and say, 'You owe that to the taxpayers,'" Parson said.