News Briefs

Missouri health director says he’ll testify to lawmakers on vaccine rollout next week

By: - January 28, 2021 1:33 pm

Randal Williams, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, testifies on Nov. 10 before the House Special Committee on Disease Control and Prevention (photo by Tim Bommel/House Communications).

Democratic lawmakers expressed frustration this week when two key figures leading Missouri’s vaccine distribution abruptly canceled their scheduled testimony before a House committee Wednesday evening.

However, Randall Williams, the director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, said the time of the hearing was changed without checking with him — and that he offered to still testify.

The House Committee on Health and Mental Health Policy was scheduled to meet Wednesday at 5 p.m. and hear testimony from Williams and Robert Knodell, Gov. Mike Parson’s deputy chief of staff.

Williams and Knodell have been integral in the state’s administration of the COVID vaccine, but both canceled their appearances due to scheduling conflicts, said Rep. LaDonna Appelbaum, a Democrat from St. Louis who said she was “disgusted” by the cancellation.

“Missourians need look no further for an explanation of why our state is ranked dead last in COVID-19 vaccinations than the two men in charge of this rollout,” Appelbaum said in a statement Thursday. “Gov. Mike Parson should be held personally responsible for the decisions he has made throughout this pandemic.”

Williams was seen in attendance at Parson’s State of the State speech Wednesday afternoon, causing some Democratic lawmakers to question why he couldn’t attend the 5 p.m. hearing shortly after.

Lisa Cox, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Senior Services, said that when the hearing was moved to 5 p.m. it prevented Williams from being able to give a full presentation, as he had committed weeks ago to speaking about vaccine safety to the Consulate of Mexico in Kansas City at 5:30 p.m.

“…I said I would appear but only for half an hour and the co-chairmen decided they would rather postpone to next week, although I offered to do it today at 7 a.m.,” Williams said in a statement Thursday. “They declined that offer.”

Cox said in an email that Williams and Knodell will appear before the committee next week.

The committee is scheduled to meet Monday at noon for an informational meeting. The committee’s chairman could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

Appelbaum said she hopes the committee can plan for an additional hearing later in the week, “because we definitely need answers.”

The state faced criticism earlier this week after data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed Missouri has the lowest percentage of its residents vaccinated in the country

On Tuesday night, the state launched a dashboard of its own, detailing how many doses have been administered and where. An estimated 5.3 percent of Missouri’s residents have received at least their first dose as of Wednesday, according to the state’s dashboard.

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Tessa Weinberg
Tessa Weinberg

Tessa Weinberg covers education, health care and the legislature. She previously covered the Missouri statehouse for The Kansas City Star and The Columbia Missourian, where her reporting into social media use by the governor prompted an investigation by the Attorney General’s office. She most recently covered state government in Texas for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.