Virus Outbreak Mississippi

Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, listens to Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves respond to a question about the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine during his briefing for reporters in Jackson, Miss., Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.

Tupelo • Older Mississippians will begin receiving the COVID-19 vaccine as early as next week following the rollout of an age-based vaccination plan announced by the governor Monday.

According to the plan, Mississippians 75 years or older will have access to the coronavirus vaccine beginning next week. Those aged 65 and up will gain access the following week.

“Right now, the most important task that we have is getting vaccines out to the public,” Reeves said during a press conference Monday afternoon. “That is our only way out of all of this.”

Reeves said vaccine rollout is going slower than he and everyone else had hoped, and attributed delays in part to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “decision to hold back and focus on who should be getting the vaccine and who should get it first.”

Reeves said he believes the state should get shots into the arms of as many Mississippians as possible, as quickly as possible. After discussions with State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs and other state officials, the governor decided Monday morning to allow older citizens to receive access to the vaccine sooner than originally planned.

“We know that we cannot afford delays in protecting those who are at the greatest risk,” Reeves said. “We must focus on saving lives, and we know that those over the age of 65 are more vulnerable than those of us under 65.”

Later this week, Mississippians 75 and older will be able to begin scheduling appointments for vaccination through MSDH by visiting https://covidvaccine.umc.edu.

In addition to MSDH’s vaccination efforts, 174 private clinics in the state will administer vaccinations “in the coming days and weeks,” Reeves said.

Mississippi has been allocated 189,250 doses of the vaccine so far. Of those, 163,750 have been distributed, 78,000 of which were designated for long-term care facilities via partnership with the federal government to CVS & Walgreens.

Mississippi’s enrolled vaccination providers have been shipped 85,750 doses of the vaccine, Reeves said. Of those doses, 21,653 doses, or around 25%, have been administered. Of the nearly 78,000 doses provided through the federal pharmacy partnership, only 1,105, less than 2%, have been distributed.

“We are going to get the vaccine out to anyone who wants it as quickly as we possibly can,” Reeves said. He vowed to convince more Mississippians of the efficacy of the vaccine.

He also indicated being open to expanding rollout even further in the near future.

“We’re going to open this up to those over the age of 75 starting next week, but if we go a week or so and appointments are not 100% full, we’re going to move even more quickly because again, we want to focus on getting as many people shots as possible,” the governor said.

Uptake among residents of long-term care facilities, which are included in the state’s first phase of vaccine rollout, has been between 80-100%, Dobbs said, but some long-term care employees have declined the vaccine.

Dobbs encouraged all health care workers, especially those working in long-term care facilities, to get vaccinated as soon as possible. He called the vaccine safe and effective, citing the fact that he received the first dose of Pfizer’s vaccine with no ill effects.

“When we talk about long-term care, people who are residents of long-term care catch coronavirus from employees,” Dobbs said. “The visitation is pretty limited and safe. The employees are the methods through which folks can get COVID in nursing homes.”

The positive vaccination news comes at a time when the state’s COVID-19 outlook is bleak. According to Reeves, the state saw more COVID-19 patients hospitalized in ICU beds than at any other point during the pandemic.

There was a drop in the number of reported COVID-19 cases during the week of Christmas, which Reeves said was likely because of fewer people being tested during the holidays. But the governor said he expects to see “very large numbers” because of spread during holiday gatherings combined with a backlog in testing and reporting that may have occurred over the last 10 days.

blake.alsup@journalinc.com

Twitter: @AlsupTheWriter

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