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Missouri is moving up activation for the next two eligibility phases of the state's vaccination plan, Gov. Mike Parson announced Thursday.

The state will move March 29 to open Phase 2 of the plan — focused on allowing Missouri workers who are essential to economic recovery to receive vaccines, Parson said during his weekly COVID-19 update.

The phase includes workers in construction, critical manufacturing, higher education, and remaining food and agriculture workers. The phase also includes homeless and disproportionately affected populations, with an emphasis on minorities and others, according to a news release from the Governor's Office.

Initiation of that phase opens vaccinations for about 880,000 Missourians.

The state will move into Phase 3 on April 9, which will open COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all remaining Missouri adults (about 1.1 million people) who have not been activated under any previous tiers or phases.

Previously, the state had opened vaccinations to health care workers, anyone age 65 and older, long-term care facility residents and staff, emergency personnel, public health workers, people with underlying health conditions that may be exacerbated by COVID-19, K-12 educators, child care workers, communications personnel, people who work in water and agriculture industries, government employees and more.

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One in every four Missourians has already initiated a vaccination, Parson said Thursday.

About half of Missourians 65 and older have initiated vaccinations.

"This is great news for Missouri, and we will continue working hard to get every Missourian who wants a vaccine the chance to get one," Parson said.

When the state activated the most recent tiers of its plan, it anticipated the next phases to begin within about 45 days, Parson pointed out.

Activation of Phase 2 will come just two weeks after the previous move.

"With progress we are currently seeing, and vaccine supply expected to increase significantly in the coming weeks, we are well ahead of schedule," Parson said. "The federal government has informed us that COVID-19 vaccine allotments to Missouri are projected to increase significantly by the first week of April."

Supply projections may change, but it is critical to start preparing for the vaccine's potential arrival in the state, he said. Missouri has to be sure there is a consistent pool of people eligible to receive the vaccine when the influx occurs, Parson continued.

Combined, phases 2 and 3 make up about 2 million more Missourians eligible for vaccinations.

With all phases activated, about 4.5 million Missourians will be eligible for the vaccine, Parson said. However, the state estimates only about 60 percent of them will choose to receive it.

Some Missourians' hesitancy to receive a vaccine remains a concern, said Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

"To me, it always comes down to a matter of trust," Williams said. "No matter what argument you're giving — safety, efficacy, how it was developed — so much of it is 'Do you trust the one giving you that message?' That's why it's so important to have those relationships with your private provider, your clinician, the person who takes care of you, the people you worship with, state leaders, local leaders."

The state knows people are worried about side effects or risk. That can be addressed through education, Williams said. But what it often comes down to is finding the people in the community whom others trust to convince people to consider receiving the vaccine.

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