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Vaccination rate lags for workers who treat Missouri's mentally ill and disabled

St. Louis Post-Dispatch - 2/9/2021

Feb. 9—JEFFERSON CITY — Nearly two-thirds of the employees who care for Missouri's mentally ill and developmentally disabled residents have not been vaccinated as of Monday, despite having the opportunity to get a shot.

In a situation that mirrors other workers who care for the elderly and disabled across the nation, 61% of the employees of the Missouri Department of Mental Health have not received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Monday, compared to 80% of the residents of the facilities who have been inoculated, the agency said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in late January that while 78% of residents at more than 11,000 nursing homes and skilled care facilities received at least one shot, only 37.5% of staff did.

Data previously showed that people who work in nursing homes and long-term care facilities get flu vaccines at lower rates than other health-care workers. Surveys suggest that long-term care workers are skeptical about the shots and don't think viruses spread easily from them to the people they care for.

Some facilities have responded to the hesitancy with educational campaigns aimed at debunking myths about vaccines.

Others are trying monetary incentives to encourage vaccination among employees. At the seven nursing homes managed by the Missouri Veterans Commission, service organizations have donated big screen TVs and cash to convince workers to get a shot.

DMH spokeswoman Debra Walker said the agency is taking a different approach.

"DMH is not offering incentives. We are providing regular communications to team members with accurate and factual information, so each individual can make an educated decision about getting vaccinated," Walker said.

Walker added that the department also allows administrative leave for those who experience vaccination side effects that keep them out of work.

The department cares for residents throughout the state, including psychiatric care facilities and homes for the developmentally disabled in the St. Louis region.

The coronavirus has killed 12 residents and five employees of the agency since last March. Currently, of the 6,685 staff members, 1,738 have tested positive for COVID-19. There currently are 29 active cases.

Of the 1,710 residents, there have been 464 positive tests, with eight of those active as of Monday.

Walker said officials at the agency's psychiatric hospitals are registered vaccinators, allowing employees to vaccinate staff and residents, as well as workers from other state agencies.

As of Monday, 1,632 individuals from five other state agencies have received vaccinations through DMH vaccinators, primarily at other agencies with congregate care settings such as Department of Corrections and Department of Social Services, Walker said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report


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