Southwest Missouri sees increased interest in COVID-19 vaccines

JOPLIN/BARTON COUNTY, Mo. – 46 patients, with three on a ventilator, are cared for at Freeman hospital in Joplin. A bleak scene for the hospital that closed their medical COVID unit in March because of a lack in hospitalizations.

“We are definitely feeling that more robust more contagious strain,” says Freeman Health System Infection Prevention Manager Jessica Liberty.

According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, as of 7/5, more than half a million cases of COVID-19 have occurred in the state; nearly five thousand of those occurring from 6/27 to 7/3. The death toll continues to creep closer to 10 thousand.

At Freeman, Liberty explains the age range of patients most generally falls between 20 and 80 years old — with most of those being the younger population.

“Because of the prevalence of the variant strain, we’re seeing a shift in symptoms to more gastrointestinal. There’s nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, apatite loss and abdominal pain. We do still see a large portion of our positive patients have some type of respiratory need. So that hasn’t gone completely away. But we have seen pretty much a nonexistent symptom of loss of taste and loss of smell,” explains Liberty.

According to DHSS, there was 150 new cases in Joplin between 6/27 and 7/3. State numbers show no Joplin residents died from COVID in that seven day period.

“It’s still here. And for us to continue to pretend that it’s not, we’re not really doing ourselves any favors,” says Liberty.

An hour away, in Barton County, the story isn’t much different. According to DHSS numbers, there was 15 positive tests between 6/27 and 7/3. That brings the official total of positive cases to more than a thousand in the county with a population of 11 thousand. Barton County Health Department Director Joel Dermott estimates the total higher — factoring in residents who were infected, but didn’t get tested.

“It’ll be old times unfortunately. Just like old times,” says Dermott, referencing December and January when cases were at a peek in the state.

While the Delta Variant spreads, wreaking havoc in the state, the number of residents getting vaccinated against the disease seems to be increasing — albeit slowly.

According to DHSS, 97 vaccine doses were administered in Barton County in the last seven days. That brings the county’s total to 5153, or 23.9 percent of the population getting at least one dose. While that might not seem like many doses for an entire week, Dermott explains it’s much higher than they had been seeing.

“We hit a low point there where people really weren’t interested in getting vaccinated. In late March, April, early part of May, we just didn’t have a lot of cases. And so our vaccination run was early on. A lot of people got it January, February, first part of March and then we started seeing our numbers tail off,” says Dermott. “It could be higher, sure. I think we all could say you could have it be higher. But I think we do have a little bit better position going into this than what we did before.”

In Joplin, 926 doses were administered in the last seven days. That brings the city’s total to 45,179, or 48.5 percent of the population getting at least the first dose.

A few months ago the number of vaccinations each week was much lower, explains Liberty.

“We have seen a little bit of an increase in the demand of the vaccine, which is really great. I think ideally it would be great if everyone chose to receive the vaccine. But I think in smaller terms, one person being vaccinated is better than no one being vaccinated. So, one person at a time. That’s how we can conquer the pandemic,” says Liberty. “This is what we’re seeing. We’re seeing younger people come in and be sick and they’re not vaccinated. The elderly population, those are among the highest that are vaccinated, we’re not seeing a huge population of those being admitted. So I think there really is a proof point that the vaccine has been effective and it is working.”

Liberty also explains they’ve seen more parents make vaccine appointments for their kids 12 and older. The hospitals “Back to School” vaccine clinic is July 13th. Liberty says if all of the current slots fill up, they will expand the clinic so more kids can get vaccinated.

To sign up for that clinic go here:, or call 417-502-SHOT.