covid vaccine

Paula Newell, supervisor of Respiratory Therapy at NMMC-Pontotoc gets the first shot of the new COVID vaccine from Darla Heath, Employee Health Nurse/Education Coordinator at NMMC-Pontotoc.

The COVID vaccine is first being administered to the most vulnerable of the population as well as to those caring for the most vulnerable, this according to local health experts.

Dr. Jeremy Blanchard, M.D., M.M.M., C.P.E., chief medical officer for North Mississippi Health Services said that care providers are taking a strategic approach in administering vaccines produced by the companies Pfizer and Moderna.

“First, we want to get the vaccine to people who are caring for sick people,” said Blanchard. “We need to preserve that workforce so we can continue to give the care. We also want to ensure that there isn’t a risk of those workers giving the virus to the people they’re caring for.”

Residents in long-term care facilities and the staff who serve them are first to receive the vaccine, Blanchard said.

The MSDH website identifies long-term care facilities as acute care facilities, long-term acute care facilities, inpatient rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, home health care, mobile clinics, outpatient facilities such as physicians’ offices and others.

“We’re working with Walgreen and CVS to serve the residents, and we actually put the long-term caregivers on the prioritized list. So, when we started giving the vaccine, at all of our seven facilities, we started with healthcare workers who give direct care in an inpatient setting. We call those our cohort units. We’re talking about nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, etc., all members of the team that are on that unit.”

The MSDH website states that health care workers include nurses, physicians, emergency medical services, technicians, pharmacists, dietary and food staff, environmental services staff and others.

“Then we quickly expanded to those caring for people throughout the community. It’s the same strategy, get the people who are caring for people vaccinated so that they don’t hurt anybody,” said Blanchard.

Blanchard anticipated that healthcare workers would expand the population receiving the vaccine to those 75 and older later this week.

“That’s how we’ll move through this, under the guidance of the Mississippi Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control,” Blanchard said.

Three entities are administering the vaccine. First are what Blanchard called “providers,” such as North Mississippi Health Services. Next are CVS and Walgreens, working with long-term care facilities. Finally, the Mississippi Department of Health administers the vaccine.

“The process is supported by the Department of Health by giving us the vaccine, but is operationalized at our local institutions,” said Blanchard. “The Mississippi Department of Health has created 18 drive-through vaccination centers that you can only get access to online, and one of those is in Lee County.”

The Lee County location is at 1001 Barnes Crossing Rd., in Tupelo, and is open 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Health care workers and those 75 and older can register online at or by calling (877) 978-6453. The process involves answering a brief questionnaire about one’s medical history.

“The 75-year old population will likely be managed through a clinical setting,” said Blanchard. “That’s probably what we’ll do, is move it out the clinic setting, but we have to operationalize it, because we’ve never done this before.”

Blanchard likened the two-shot vaccination process to receiving a shingles vaccination. The Pfizer vaccine was sent to big hospitals, Blanchard said, those with freezers capable of preserving the medicine. The Moderna vaccine doesn’t require the same freezing accommodations. Those receiving the Pfizer shot must return in 21 days for a follow-up shot. Those receiving the Moderna vaccine return in 28 days for a second shot.

This week the MSDH will release vaccines to 170 clinics throughout the state, although the agency hasn’t disclosed how they selected the clinics.

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