TUPELO • Around a third of workers at North Mississippi’s largest health care provider have received the first of a two-shot series of vaccine doses intended to protect against COVID-19.
As of last week’s end, 34% of all NMHS staff, approximately 2,384 people, have received at least one vaccination dose, according to North Mississippi Health Services.
An additional 732 medical workers considered to be affiliated provider staff have received the shot, making for a total 3,116 individuals within the broader NMHS umbrella who have received at least one shot.
According to Shane Spees, president/CEO of North Mississippi Health Services, an additional 150 shots remain available as first doses, meaning demand within with the NMHS system has not yet fully exhausted supply.
But the demand has been high. The remaining 150 shots represent only a fraction of the initial first-dose supply — around 3.8%, Spees said.
Officials with the hospital system don’t anticipate any issues completing the two-shot series for anyone, though the hospital does not have custody of all second doses.
“We currently have most, but not all, second shots in inventory to cover all who received the first shot,” Spees told the Daily Journal via email. “The state of Mississippi, as recently as today, communicated that second doses will be available to all who have already received their first dose.”
Of the 3,116 individuals who have received a first shot, 909 have received the required second dose.
The state’s very first batch of doses – received in December – were allocated to hospitals in order to protect critical health care workers, including doctors and nurses working directly with COVID-19 patients.
As supplies inched upward in the first weeks of a national rollout of first Pfizer’s, and then Moderna’s, vaccine, hospitals began to offer vaccination to all staff, even those not in a health care setting.
As distribution expanded outside a health care setting, however, states across the nation have faced issues, including slower-than-expected rollouts, questions about prioritization and uneven demand.
In Mississippi last week, Gov. Tate Reeves flung open eligibility for vaccine access to anyone age 65 or over, as well as anyone 18 or older with a range of pre-existing conditions, including obesity, smoking and heart disease. With that expansion, the state in short order committed all its anticipated vaccine supply through the middle of February, although the governor announced Friday that the state had received a shipment of an additional 37,000 first doses of coronavirus vaccine and that more appointment availability should reopen the week of Jan. 25.
At the same time as this overwhelming public demand swamped the state’s phone banks and online appointment system, a federal partnership design to vaccinate long-term care facility residents has crawled along due to staffing shortages at CVS and Walgreens.
State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs also admitted last week that demand for the vaccine among staff at long-term care facilities, including nursing homes, has been lower than desired.
In response to questions by the Daily Journal, Dobbs said the Mississippi State Department of Health is “trying to understanding the hesitancy and the concerns” from some staff at these facilities.
He was adamant that such workers need the vaccine for the safety of the residents under their care.
“Of all the health care workers in the country, they need to have it more than anyone ,” Dobbs said at a press briefing. “Unless your doctor says you can’t get it, you need to get it.”
Lee County – the largest in the region – leads Northeast Mississippi region in total people vaccinated, at 2,258. That number is actually near the total for the much-larger Memphis-area suburban county of DeSoto, at 2,460.