Missouri governor calls lawmakers back to work on virus aid

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Wednesday called lawmakers back to work for a special session to give his administration the authority to dole out additional federal coronavirus aid funding.

Parson said the session is necessary to allow the state to hand out federal money for school food programs, job training, homelessness prevention, domestic violence grants and child support payments.

Democratic House Minority Leader Crystal Quade in a statement called the special session a “political stunt” that's scheduled to begin two days after the Nov. 3 election, when voters will decide whether to give Parson four more years in office or replace him with Democratic Auditor Nicole Galloway.

“When the legislature passed the current state budget in May, it granted the governor broad authority to spend federal coronavirus relief funds precisely so he would have the flexibility to act without calling lawmakers back to Jefferson City,” Quade said. "As a result, it is highly questionable whether this special session is even necessary.

Meanwhile, the state's 111-page plan for distributing the coronavirus vaccine prioritizes health care workers, The Kansas City Star reported.

After health care workers, the vaccine would be given to high-risk residents, such as the elderly and people with chronic conditions, nursing home residents and employees, along with law enforcement and other frontline workers.

The vaccine would then become available to the general public.

Missouri, along with all other states, U.S. territories and some large metro areas, recently submitted virus distribution plans to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Under Missouri's plan submitted within the past week, people may be asked to pay a small administrative fee for the vaccine but no one will be denied it if they can't afford it. Officials are anticipating that two doses of the vaccine will be required.

Some health care professionals are already concerned that vaccine distribution will become another partisan political issue that will give rise to more conspiracy theories, as with so many issues arising from the pandemic.

“It’s going to have to come, again, from both sides of the aisle saying the vaccine is safe, as well as our governor perhaps getting on television, getting in front of the media and getting their vaccine first to reassure the public,” said Heidi Lucas, director of the Missouri Nurses Association.

Talk of a possible vaccine came as Missouri continued to report high numbers of new confirmed COVID-19 cases nearly every day. On Wednesday, state health data showed 160,869 confirmed cases, an increase of 1,244 from Tuesday. The state has recorded 2,641 deaths, up 26 from Tuesday.

Over the past week, roughly 1,600 new cases have been reported every day on average in the state.

Federally qualified health centers, rural health clinics, private physicians and pharmacies will be the focus of vaccination efforts. Local and state health officials will target vulnerable populations such as the homeless and incarcerated, and will help colleges and universities get students vaccinated, according to the plan.

“I think what you’re seeing is the ability to allocate a scarce resource as we try and identify how the resource can do the most good for the greater good,” said Dan Manley, an assistant chief for the Lee’s Summit Fire Department who is part of a work group focused on the vaccine effort. “So if we look at the population that has the greatest risk, that’s where it’s important for us to provide the resource.”

As doses become more readily available, Missouri will expand its vaccination sites to as many places as possible, including hospitals, health departments and eventually pharmacies and doctor’s offices, experts said.