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Thousands Of Missourians Find Long Lines, Relief At St. Louis Mass Vaccination

Crowds arrive to receive Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccines at St. Louis Community College - Forest Park in St. Louis on Thursday, March 25, 2021. The mass vaccination was able to put 3000 shots into arms in eight hours.
Bill Greenblatt
Crowds arrive to receive Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine doses at St. Louis Community College-Forest Park in St. Louis on Thursday. The mass vaccination event put 3,000 shots into arms in eight hours.

Missourians waited in line — some for hours — to receive their COVID-19 shot at the first of two planned mass vaccination clinics held in St. Louis on Thursday.

State and local health officials, the National Guard and volunteers gave nearly 3,500 residents the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The vaccine distribution was one of several state-run events being held in the region through the weekend. By Sunday, state officials expect to vaccinate more than 14,000 people at state-run events in the St. Louis region.

Many were pleased to see such a large-scale event come to St. Louis, but some expressed frustration at the long lines, which stretched for blocks around the campus of St. Louis Community College-Forest Park.

The lines were caused by people arriving ahead of or behind their scheduled appointment time, City Spokesman Jacob Long said. The vaccination clinic is designed for a limited number of people, and when more show up at once, it clogs the system.

Others presented fraudulent registration confirmation forms or registrations that had been forwarded from emails or copied from the internet, he said.

The city event hit a snag before it got underway. On Wednesday, the St. Louis Department of Health sent eligible residents an email inviting them to sign up for a vaccination appointment that contained an incorrect date.

Karen Clay was discouraged when she arrived to see the long line. She walks with a cane and knew she couldn’t stand for hours.

“I saw all those people, I didn’t know where to go,” said Clay, of St. Louis. “I was like, ‘I’m going to go home, I can’t do this, I can’t stand in this long line.’”

An event worker saw her struggling and gave her a ride on a golf cart to a designated site for people with mobility issues. She decided to stay put and get her shot.

“I was kind of leery, but it’s my responsibility for me to get this shot so I won’t get sick and pass it to my loved ones,” she said.

Clay can’t wait to go bowling with her family again once the shot kicks in, she said.

Gov. Mike Parson last week announced the state would hold large-scale vaccination events throughout the St. Louis region, including at sites in north and west St. Louis County and St. Charles County. The announcements came after lawmakers and residents complained that many state-sponsored vaccination clinics were being held far from urban centers, where many people are desperate to get the shot.

Fewer than 16% of St. Louisans have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to state data. That’s compared with more than 23% of residents statewide.

Dr. Fred Echols, acting St. Louis health director, urged city residents to wait their turn. All adult Missourians will be eligible to receive the vaccine on April 9, and that will create even more demand, he said.

“There’s still a large percentage of individuals in the St. Louis metropolitan area who are going to be looking for the COVID-19 when it’s available to them,” he said. “They’re going to need to be patient.”

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

Sarah is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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