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Setting priorities: Attorney advises state on vaccine rollout

Tyler McClay

Tyler McClay

Missouri’s Advisory Committee on Equitable COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution is a group with a long name but a straightforward mission: It meets weekly and advises state leaders on who should get priority to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The committee includes Tyler McClay, a Jefferson City lawyer-lobbyist who is both general counsel and executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference. His organization is the public-policy arm of the Catholic Church in Missouri and seeks to provide a Catholic perspective on legislation.

Missouri Lawyers Media recently spoke with McClay about his role on the advisory committee and vaccine distribution in Missouri. The following has been lightly edited for length and clarity.  

How did you become part of this committee?

In December, I was getting questions about a lot of our priests who go to hospitals to give last rites and care for families when their loved ones are dying. I was asking the governor’s office, “Is there a way to get priests [who have to go in hospitals] the vaccine?” That kind of started the dialogue, and I think after that is when I got asked to be on the committee. They asked me if I was interested.

What work have you done so far?

Primarily, it’s been more of [the state] informing us of the latest rollout information and asking for our opinion and if there are groups they’re forgetting about. [Earlier this year], there were people advocating for EMTs and first responders to be included, along with health care workers and along with nursing home patients, patients in mental health facilities and substance abuse programs, trying to get them further up the line . . . I think this is part of what makes our system work, that different groups get to advocate for their tribe. We all get to recognize who’s out there and what they need.

The committee has a focus on equity. What does that mean to you as general counsel and executive director, and to your organization?

To me, that means that the vaccines are distributed equitably in terms of income, economics and race and demographics, and in terms of rural versus urban.

What are your organization’s main concerns about vaccine distribution in Missouri?

We’ve had concerns among our population about the vaccine and the connection to tainted cell lines that were used for some of the [COVID-19] vaccines . . . Our bishops put out a statement saying it’s morally acceptable for Catholics to accept these vaccines because it’s necessary to protect their health and the health of others and the connection to the tainted cell lines is pretty remote, especially for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which don’t use aborted fetal tissue in the vaccine itself. Nor did they in [their development].

Recent national reports have put Missouri in last place among the U.S. states in terms of administering vaccines. What needs to be done to improve that standing?

I don’t really have a good answer for that. I saw  that we’re above the national average in the number of people who have gotten two doses. It’s probably multifactorial. Number one, there is a limited amount of vaccines available. Number two, there’s a limited number of vaccinators who can actually give it, and number three, a good bit of vaccinations [went] to CVS and Walgreens to get out to nursing homes. Those doses [went] directly to the pharmacies, and I understand only 17 percent of those have been administered. That might be a function of the pharmacies not having the staffing to get out and do it, and gearing up for that. [Following this interview, Gov. Mike Parson announced plans to revamp and accelerate the previous process of distributing vaccines through pharmacies.]

Have you gotten the vaccine yet?

I got my first dose. I’m a deacon, so I’ve been assigned by my bishop to make sure that communion is distributed to this one nursing home. I haven’t been able to go in there since COVID-19 started. I asked the woman who runs the nursing home if I could get on the list through them, and she checked on it and I was able to do it. Hopefully, I can get back in there to bring communion soon.

Did you experience any side effects?

Not really. I felt a little sort of wonky yesterday and my arm is sore, but I’m doing OK today. I understand it’s the second dose [that causes a stronger reaction].