Gov. Parson praises Missouri vaccinations. He doesn’t say he’s using single dose data

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Gov. Mike Parson praised his handling of the pandemic during the State of the State address on Wednesday, even touting how many Missourians have been vaccinated.

He left out that his figures were based on just a single dose.

“Today, one of our greatest successes is in the fact that more than 94 percent of Missourians 65 and older, our most vulnerable population, have received protection from this virus,” Parson said. “And nearly 75 percent of Missourians 18 and older have received a vaccine.”

The data is correct but only counts single doses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parson’s decision to highlight single-dose vaccinations comes as health experts beg residents to get fully vaccinated and boosted amid a surge driven by the omicron variant. Evidence indicates full vaccination offers more protection than a single dose.

Missouri has one of the lowest rates of fully-vaccinated seniors in the nation, according to CDC, which defines full vaccination as two doses of a two-dose vaccine or one dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

About 83% of Missouri residents 65 and older are fully vaccinated, according to the agency. Five states rank lower, with Arkansas at the bottom at 79%. Four states – including Minnesota, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont – lead the nation at 95%.

Missouri is also near the bottom of the pack when it comes to fully vaccinated adults. Nearly 64% of residents who are 18 and up are fully vaccinated. Only 10 states rank lower.

The CDC data largely aligns with data posted by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Health experts have consistently urged individuals to get both shots of two dose vaccines and are now calling for people to get booster shots, especially now amid omicron. 40.2% of adults are boosted in Missouri.

Parson’s aggressive, at-times defensive, explanation of his virus strategy on Wednesday strategy drew condemnation from Democrats, who accused the Republican governor of claiming a premature victory.

“In this state, we used common sense and took a balanced approach to the pandemic,” Parson said, “and while that may not seem like a novel idea, when you look to some of the policies and mandates in other states and places you find that common sense may not be so common.”

More than 3,700 virus patients were being treated in Missouri hospitals this week, according to data compiled by The New York Times. That’s roughly 1,000 more patients now than during the previous peak in November 2020.

Nearly 17,000 Missourians have died from COVID-19 since early 2020.

At the start of January, Parson allowed Missouri’s pandemic state of emergency to expire, signaling the state’s move away from a crisis footing. On Wednesday, he referred to closing out the “past 22 months” and looking to “our next chapter.”

“Today the governor claimed victory over COVID while children, like my own here today, are wandering the hallways because our school is shut down,” House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, a Springfield Democrat, said.

Parson refused to issue a statewide mask mandate and has complained about federal vaccine rules. In his speech, he emphasized his administration’s focus on vaccine distribution.

“No one had a roadmap or a playbook, and we knew we faced difficult times ahead,” Parson said, adding that state government had “prevailed” by focusing on fairness in vaccine distribution.

Parson’s strategy for vaccine distribution came under heavy criticism in the early months of their availability, however. A decision to allocate early vaccine supplies by Highway Patrol regions led to allegations that the plan ignored urban areas.

Parson said there will “always be endless critics to tell us how we could have done it better, the facts are we were the ones in the arena.”

“We made the tough decisions and never cowered to the challenge,” he said.

The Star’s Jeanne Kuang contributed reporting