JACKSON Anyone 65 or older and people with certain pre-existing conditions are now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in Mississippi.

Gov. Tate Reeves on Tuesday announced that the eligibility criteria for vaccines has widened again in order to increase the pace of vaccinations. The expansion opens eligibility for vaccination to those 65 or older; previously, vaccinations were only available to members of the public aged 75 or older.

The governor’s announcement also made vaccinations available to those with a list of pre-existing conditions, including cancer, COPD, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, heart conditions, obesity, sickle cell disease and other illnesses as determined by a doctor.

All health care workers and paramedics who are not already vaccinated also remain eligible.

Eligible state residents can schedule a slot at any of the vaccination sites managed by the Mississippi State Department of Health by calling 877-978-6453 or by using the website covidvaccine.umc.edu.

If that phone number does not work – as it didn’t for at least a time on Tuesday – residents can also try the number 601-965-4071, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health.

Shortly after his announcement of new eligibility standards, Reeves warned that the call volume and web traffic was heavy. He encouraged eligible residents to be persistent and patient.

“Huge surge in calls and web traffic are causing delays for users, but please keep at it,” Reeves said on his Twitter account. “Bottleneck is not ideal, but the alternative (restricting access) is worse!”

The governor also advised that some essential workers, including first responders and teachers, are “on deck” and could become eligible to receive a vaccine as early as next week.

Speaking Tuesday, both Reeves and Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs acknowledged that the pace of vaccinations has been moving slowly in the state.

The latest numbers available from MSDH show that out of 249,100 vaccine doses allocated to the state thus far, only about 57,000 individual people have actually received at least one shot.

“We’ve got to get shots in arms,” Reeves said. “We don’t have time for excuses, we’ve got to get shots in arms.”

Despite the slow rollout, Reeves said trends are now moving in a better direction.

Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control show Mississippi lagging much of the country in its per capita rate of vaccinations.

CDC numbers show that most states have at least reached the thresholds of more than 2,000 people initiating a vaccination series for every 100,000 state residents.

In Mississippi, however, only about 1,800 people have initiated a vaccine series for every 100,000 residents in the state. Besides Mississippi, only Arkansas, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia and South Carolina have per capita rates below 2,000 initiations per 100,000 residents.

A vaccine series refers to the two-shot process required by both the vaccines currently in use, one produced by Pfizer and one by Moderna.

caleb.bedillion@journalinc.com

Twitter: @CalebBedillion

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