Yesterday during a standing Biden administration briefing on COVID-19, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky deviated from prepared remarks to candidly make a plea to Americans to “hold on a little while longer” to prevent a fourth wave of the pandemic. While the administration’s stark warning of “impending doom” may be difficult to contextualize in Missouri — where hospitalizations are nearly one-fourth of their peak levels experienced in late December — the underlying message of continued vigilance in masking, physical distancing, hand hygiene and vaccine uptake is most timely as COVID-19 activity is increasing dramatically in other parts of the U.S. and Europe. Pandemic complacency, pent up demand for travel, and upcoming social events such as spring break and the Easter holiday have the potential to reverse progress made in Missouri since the first vaccines arrived in the state on Dec. 14, 2020.
During the prolonged surge following the Thanksgiving holiday, Missourians ages 60 and older accounted for roughly seven out of every 10 new hospital admissions for COVID-19. For this same reason, older individuals have been prioritized in the early eligibility tiers of the mass vaccination campaign in Missouri and other states. By March 28, Missourians ages 60 and older had received an average of 87.2 state-managed doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for every 100 residents — this is more than triple the same rate for Missourians under age 60. During the same period, older Missourians saw a 15.3% reduction in the portion of new daily hospitalizations that they account for. Conversely, younger Missourians have received just under 28 doses per 100 residents, and their portion of new hospitalizations has increased by 32.1% since Dec. 14.
This actually is good news, as age is among the most powerful predictors of severe illness and death stemming from COVID-19. On the other hand, myriad factors, including unanticipated sources of vaccine hesitancy, may jeopardize the achievement of herd immunity in Missouri. As a result of increasing supply and dwindling demand, it is anticipated that Gov. Parson will expand vaccine eligibility to the entire population ages 16 and older on Friday, April 9. To protect our families, friends, communities and loved ones from a virus that has prematurely taken the lives of 550,000 Americans, it is mathematically a prerequisite that younger Missourians become vaccinated when eligible.