People in Missouri secretly getting vaccinated out of fear their community will turn on them

Missouri residents are allegedly wearing disguises and getting COVID-19 vaccines in secret in fear of blowback from members of their communities.

Dr Priscilla Frase, who works at Ozarks Healthcare, a hospital in West Plains – 200 miles southwest of St Louis – told ABC News that many patients do not want their family and friends to know they got the shots.

The medical center is now offering to give the vaccines in a private setting to patients who request it.

It comes as Missouri struggles to handle the Indian ‘Delta’ variant, which is responsible for a recent surge.  

Cases have increased in The Show-Me State by 77 percent in the past two weeks, from 1,371 average daily cases on July 12 to 2,427 on July 26. 

Dr Priscilla Frase (pictured) told ABC that some Missourians are coming in disguise or in secret to receive COVID-19 vaccines

Only 48 percent of residents have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine so far, state health department data show. 

Frase, who works in the Internal Medicine department at Ozarks, told ABC News that she has seen multiple people in disguise.

‘I’ve had several people come in to get vaccinated who have sort of tried to disguise their appearance and even went so far as to say: “Please, please, please don’t let anybody know that I got this vaccine. I don’t want my friends to know,”‘ she said.   

In Howell County, where Ozarks is located, the COVID situation is getting worse as the vaccine rate remains low.

Cases in the county – which has a population of around 40,000 – have grown by 500 percent over the past month, from six per day on June 26 to 36 per day on July 26.

Cases in Howell, Missouri, where Ozarks is located, have increased by 500% over the past month

Cases in Howell, Missouri, where Ozarks is located, have increased by 500% over the past month

The county also set a new record on Monday, recording 78 new COVID cases, the most ever on a single day. 

The county has had trouble getting its residents jabbed as well, with only 10,000 residents – or 25 percent – having received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Howell lies in a region that was among the first to experience a large case surge due to the Delta variant – a highly contagious strain of the virus that originated in India.

Currently, an estimated 90 percent of active cases in Missouri are of the Delta variant.

Hospitals in southwest Missouri were running at near capacity at the start of July, and some even faced a ventilator shortage.

The federal government deployed a special response team to the region to assist local hospitals in dealing with the surge.

St Louis, the second largest city in the state, even reinstated a mask mandate for all people – no matter vaccination status – to prevent spread of the virus.

Eric Schmitt, Missouri’s attorney general, filed a lawsuit against St Louis, hoping to repeal the mask mandate.  

Schmitt, who is running for U.S. Senate, previously filed a failed lawsuit against the government of China because of the pandemic. 

‘This continued government overreach is unacceptable and unconstitutional, especially in the face of a widely available vaccine,’ he said in a release. 

Missouri's vaccine rollout has slowed down since reaching its peak in April. It hit one of its lowest points earlier this month

Missouri’s vaccine rollout has slowed down since reaching its peak in April. It hit one of its lowest points earlier this month

Getting vaccine, which is widely available in Missouri, into the arms of residents has been a challenge, though.

Only around 15,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed every day in Missouri, a far fall from early April where 50,000 a day were used. 

The state also hit a 2021 low of only 7,500 vaccines distributed in the first week of the month, though the figure has doubled since then. 

Missouri’s vaccine rollout follows a nationwide trend.

After peaking in early April, demand for vaccines in the United States began to plummet. 

With cases surging across the nation, the average new daily cases have increased by 376 percent, from 11,887 on June 26 to 56,635 on July 26, health officials are bringing back some COVID-19 mandates.

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised its mask guidance, now recommending that all people – no matter vaccine status – wear a mask in indoor public spaces in areas of ‘substantial or high transmission.’

All but one county in Missouri are currently considered to be of ‘substantial or ‘high’ transmission.

Almost every county in Missouri is of 'substantial' or 'high'

Almost every county in Missouri is of ‘substantial’ or ‘high’

Guidelines from the CDC are not binding, though, meaning it is still up to county and state level leaders to set mask mandates.

With the Attorney General’s opposition to mask mandates, it is unlikely any will be set at the state level. 

Counties who choose to do so may also face backlash from the state government, like St Louis. 

Children, students and staff across the state will also be recommended to wear masks when they return to in-person learning this fall.