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Gov. Mike Parson on Thursday told vaccinators to prepare to serve educators, child care staff and others considered critical infrastructure in a little more than two weeks.

Parson said during his weekly COVID-19 update the state is prepared to open Phase 1B-Tier 3 of the plan for vaccine eligibility March 15.

The tier includes education (including teachers, faculty and staffs of schools), child care faculty and staff, communications, energy, food and agriculture, government, information technology, nuclear reactors, transportation sector, and water and wastewater systems.

Previous tiers who remain eligible include health care, first responders, people 65 and older and people with underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to serious illness from COVID-19.

Opening the new tier will make an additional 550,000 Missourians eligible for vaccinations, mean about 3.5 million Missouri residents total will be eligible for vaccinations, Parson said.

"Of those 3.5 million, many have already been vaccinated — and approximately 40 percent will not seek a vaccine," he said.

Parson said the state's vaccination plan, which has been in place since October, has always prioritized saving lives.

"This is exactly why we started with our health care workers, our first responders and our most-vulnerable population," Parson said.

Tier 3 represents workers in industries the state depends on to keep operating normally.

A full list of Tier 3 categories is available at covidvaccine.mo.gov.

"In the coming weeks, we expect to see a slow but steady increase in vaccine supply," the governor said. "We heard news this week that the pharmaceutical companies are increasing their production, the federal government is increasing our allotment, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is expected to be approved at any time, which will also increase supply."

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single-dose vaccine. The two that have previously been approved for use in the United States — from Pfizer and Moderna — each requires two doses.

This week, Missouri was allotted more than 120,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine. It has been allotted 128,500 for the next week, Parson said.

The federal government has also allotted more than 233,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to Missouri through its partnership with CVS and Walgreens pharmacies, Parson said.

And more than 34,000 doses have been shipped to Walmart, Health Mart and Hy-Vee through the Federal Retail Pharmacy program.

"While supply is still limited, we're expecting slow and steady increases," Parson said. "Activating Tier 3 on March 15 will allow us to continue making progress as supplies increase."

Parson added that should the federal government approve the Johnson & Johnson vaccine today, Missouri is prepared to order early next week. Much like with the Pfizer vaccine, the state may receive a larger amount in the first shipment than in subsequent shipments, he said.

"We estimate we may get around 50,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson," Parson said. "However, they have told us that may decrease after that first initial order."

Statewide data indicates 12.3 percent of Missourians have received at least one vaccine dose, which ranks in the bottom 10 of all U.S. states, the Associated Press reported.

Missourians wishing to receive a COVID-19 vaccination should contact their health care provider or visit covidvaccine.mo.gov/navigator.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Service on Thursday reported 727 newly confirmed cases of the coronavirus and eight new COVID-19 deaths. The state has reported 477,078 confirmed cases and 7,902 deaths since the pandemic began.

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