JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — With COVID-19 case rates increasing across the state and vaccination rates lagging, Missouri’s top health official urged state employees to disregard misinformation.

Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) Acting Director Robert Knodell encouraged state employees to consider the vaccine in an email Thursday, pointing to false information on social media and groups “cashing in big due to these types of efforts” while costing lives. He recommended consulting with trusted health care professionals about any concerns.

“We all want COVID-19 to be behind us. But the situation will not be under control to the point we will have a semblance of ‘normal’ until we can control the spread. The best way to do that is through widespread vaccination,” he said. “We know that vaccination is lowering the severity of illness when people do become infected. We know the death rate is lower now because of vaccination. … Let’s stop this virus in its tracks, once and for good. Together.”

Knodell noted the impact of the delta variant, a new strain spreading faster while impacting younger, healthy people. A majority of those hospitalized with the virus were unvaccinated, Knodell said.

Gov. Mike Parson took to social media to encourage vaccination Friday, promoting a portal to help Missourians find sites near them offering different vaccines.

“Choice is a powerful thing. We recognize the tremendous impact COVID-19 has had on our communities,” Parson said. “You have the choice to help our society shape our new path forward beyond COVID-19.”

Legislators are also banding together to encourage vaccination; a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both chambers is holding a vaccination event in Springfield Saturday, an effort to combat rising case rates in their community.

The state unveiled a pair of vaccine incentive programs last week, including the MO VIP Program giving 900 Missourians the chance to win cash or prizes amounting to $10,000 over the next three months. The program will use federal COVID-19 funds to award adults receiving the vaccine as well as grant education savings accounts to students.

More than 250,000 Missourians applied for the program within its first week. DHSS reported an increase in demand for the vaccine after it was announced, with daily vaccination rates reaching higher numbers than the state had seen since May.

A local incentive program is also in the works. Health agencies administering the vaccine are eligible to provide gift cards up to $25 for each vaccine recipient, totaling $11 million from CDC Immunizations grant funding. The fund will provide incentives for up to 440,000 vaccines and sunset at the end of the year.

More than 2.9 million Missourians have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while more than 2.5 million are fully inoculated, amounting to 41 percent of the state’s population. More than 13,000 positive cases were reported in Missouri over the last seven days, with 31 deaths. Around 1,900 patients are hospitalized as of Friday morning, with 267 on ventilators.

Cameron Gerber studied journalism at Lincoln University. Prior to Lincoln, he earned an associate’s degree from State Fair Community College. Cameron is a native of Eldon, Missouri.

Contact Cameron at cameron@themissouritimes.com.

Read MoreFeedzy