Missouri to offer vaccine incentives amid emerging COVID-19 hotspot

Missouri to offer vaccine incentives amid emerging COVID-19 hotspot
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As Missouri emerges as a new epicenter of a summer coronavirus surge, Gov. Mike Parson (R) said Wednesday the state would offer its first incentives to urge residents to get vaccinated against a disease that has already killed more than 10,000 of his constituents.

Missouri residents who have already received or choose to receive a vaccine protecting them from COVID-19 would be eligible to receive one of 900 prizes worth $10,000, either in cash or in an education savings account, Parson said.

The winners will be distributed equally between Missouri’s eight congressional districts, with a special category set aside for those between the ages of 12 and 17 who receive the vaccines who would be eligible for the education awards.

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As the new delta variant of the coronavirus, first identified in India, has swarmed over the United States, places like Missouri - where far fewer people have received vaccines than the national average - have become the new hotspots.

Parson acknowledged the hesitancy Missourians had shown toward accepting a coronavirus vaccine in announcing the new incentives.

“We understand that some Missourians are hesitant towards getting the vaccine, but we must all take personal responsibility and do right by our own health and that of our friends and families by getting vaccinated,” he said. “Our current COVID-19 situation is serious. This Delta variant transmits faster than what we have previously seen and is more likely to impact children and the unvaccinated.”

Missouri is averaging more than 2,100 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus a day over the last week, a level not seen since the middle of January, as the winter surge began to ebb. More than 1,500 Missourians are in the hospital, up almost 50 percent over two weeks ago.

The data show just how much vaccine hesitancy has contributed to the latest surge, a wave of preventable illness and death that state and national health officials have lamented as avoidable. 

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Some of the lowest infection rates in Missouri in recent weeks have come in the St. Louis suburbs and in the suburbs of Kansas City. Platte and St. Charles counties are averaging fewer than 20 new cases a day per 100,000 residents. In those two counties, more than 40 percent of the populace is vaccinated.

By contrast, the rate of infection is nearly four times higher in Springfield’s Greene County and in surrounding counties, where a third or fewer of residents have been fully vaccinated.

In other rural counties east of Springfield, fewer than a quarter of residents are completely vaccinated. By contrast, almost half of all Americans and 60 percent of those over the age of 18 have been fully vaccinated against the virus.

Parson was one of a few governors who never implemented a mask mandate, even at the height of the coronavirus crisis. He signed legislation in June limiting local public health restrictions and barring the use of vaccine passports for access to public facilities and public transportation.

Parson and his wife Teresa both received their first doses of vaccine back in February. Each had been infected with and recovered from the virus in the fall.

But Parson was among the Republicans criticizing the Biden administration’s push for a new surge in vaccine usage when he said earlier this month he did not want government employees going door-to-door to urge people to get vaccinated. Parson said in a tweet he had directed the state health department to warn the federal government against door-to-door vaccination drives.

The White House pushed back against Parson and other Republicans who warned about the door-to-door campaign, saying any local efforts would be led by local teams and volunteers.

“I would say for those individuals, organizations that are feeding misinformation and trying to mischaracterize this type of trusted messenger work, I believe you are doing a disservice to the country and to the doctors, the faith leaders, the community leaders and others who are working to get people vaccinated, to save lives and help to end this pandemic,” Jeffrey Zeints, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, said last week.