Missouri governor doesn’t want door-to-door vaccine help

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Federal officials are pushing back after Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said he doesn’t want government employees going door-to-door in his state to urge people to get vaccinated, even as a COVID-19 outbreak overwhelms some hospitals.

Missouri asked for help last week from nearly formed federal “surge response” teams as it combats an influx of cases that public health officials are blaming on fast-spreading delta variant and deep-seated concerns about the vaccine. After one official noted the effort that could include door-to-door promotion of the vaccine, Parson tweeted: “I have directed our health department to let the federal government know that sending government employees or agents door-to-door to compel vaccination would NOT be an effective OR a welcome strategy in Missouri!”

But Jeffrey Zeints, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said Thursday that the best people to talk with about vaccinations are local “local trusted messengers” like doctors, faith leaders and community leaders, who may go door to door.

“So 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,” he said.

Parson has urged people to get vaccinated, while also declining to enact restrictions to control the virus’ spread, instead asking residents to take personal responsibility. Missouri — which leads the nation with the most new COVID-19 cases per capita over the last two weeks — never had a mask mandate, and Parson signed a law last month placing limits on public health restrictions and barring governments from requiring proof of vaccination to use public facilities and transportation.

Over the weekend, the Republican governor tweeted a picture of himself at a fireworks celebration in the tourist town of Branson, a large crowd behind him. Branson is about 40 miles (65 kilometers) south of Springfield, where one hospital was so overwhelmed with patients that it temporarily ran out of ventilators and took to social media to beg for help from respiratory therapists.

Just 29.5% of residents in the county where Branson is located have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot, state data shows. That is below the state rate of 45% and the national rate of 55.1% but not unlike several other southwest Missouri communities. Some have vaccination rates in the teens and 20s.

Vaccine and mask resistance runs deep in the area: Branson’s mayor was elected to office this spring after running on a platform that called for doing away with masks.

“I think what Missouri shows us, unfortunately, is that it’s the unimmunized who are ending up in the hospital,” said Dr. Chris Beyrer, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “And that makes it in some ways even more of a challenge for health care workers, because these are preventable hospitalizations and preventable deaths.”


Associated Press writer Tom Murphy contributed from Indianapolis.