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First Mississippians Vaccinated, But State Still in Critical Danger

Mississippi has received its first doses of the COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, but no protection is guaranteed for most residents of the state with the small amount currently available to key health-care providers. Photo courtesy MSDH

Mississippi has received its first doses of the COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, but no protection is guaranteed for most residents of the state with the small amount currently available to key health-care providers. Photo courtesy MSDH

The first Mississippians to receive the COVID-19 vaccine are its own state health leadership, marking a hopeful beginning to what will be a long process of finally exterminating the virus in the Magnolia State.

The Mississippi State Department of Health held a public display of confidence in the vaccine’s safety and efficacy at its Jackson headquarters. State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, joined by State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers, MSDH Senior Deputy and Office of Health Protection Director Jim Craig, Dr. Leandro Mena and RN Sonja Fuqua, received their first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

“It felt like a butterfly,” Dobbs said moments after receiving the first vaccination in the state. “A little bit of a sting,” he acknowledged. “Not bad.” A day later, the state health officer confirmed on Twitter that mild pain at the site of the injection—a common side effect of many vaccinations—were his only symptoms.

It will be months, likely late spring or summer, before vaccine access provides Mississippi with the opportunity for real herd immunity. Until that time, MSDH and all public health organizations have repeatedly stressed that masking, social distancing and an end to all social gatherings is critical to protect the already overwhelmed hospital system.

The first limited doses of the vaccine continue to arrive, with the University of Mississippi Medical Center receiving an initial allotment of 780 vials. From those vials, 3,900 employees will receive their first shot, providing an immediate degree of protection ahead of their second dose in coming weeks.

In a press release, Marc Rolph, executive director of communications at UMMC, explained that a “tiered system” based on risk of exposure to the virus would offer health-care providers actively treating COVID-19 patients top priority access to the vaccine.

Dobbs and Byers themselves are front-line providers, personally testing many of the suspected COVID-19 patients processed directly by MSDH.

Immense Danger Ahead

But the momentary celebration of the first vaccinations against COVID-19 cannot lessen the severity of the moment. Yesterday, Mississippi entered its third consecutive week with daily case reports over the 2,000 mark. MSDH announced 2,205 new cases of COVID-19 from Dec. 14.

The rolling seven-day average is now 2,196, a staggering degree of spread inconceivable before dangerous and ill-advised Thanksgiving travel and gatherings pushed Mississippi far above its earlier summer peak.

Hospitalizations climb far above those devastating August peaks, too. Monday’s update showed 1,196 Mississippians hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19. In addition, intensive-care unit capacity continues to grind away to nothing, with 303 Mississippians crowding the state’s ICUs on top of the already difficult seasonal uptick in severe illnesses outside of COVID-19.

Long-term care facilities find themselves in yet another moment of crisis, with MSDH’s most recent report showing 236—virtually every single LTC in the state of Mississippi—experiencing an active outbreak.

Deaths also continue their dizzying climb. Today’s report added 48 new fatalities to the growing list of Mississippians lost to the virus. A total of 4,252 Mississippians have died as a result of complications from COVID-19. But unlike the worst period of deaths prior to the current surge, cases have only steadily increased through the inevitable hospitalizations and deaths that have followed, promising a grim December and January, especially if Christmas and New Year’s Eve gatherings follow the same pattern as Thanksgiving.

MSDH’s restrictions continue to tighten, even as the governor continues his hands-off approach to fighting the pandemic. On Friday, Dec. 11, MSDH formally mandated an end to all elective surgeries requiring overnight hospitalization through Dec. 23.

Only Tier 3 surgeries—including acute and life-threatening ailments such as serious cancers, traumas and organ failures can proceed as normal through the coming weeks. MSDH’s order is not a request, but a legally binding mandate, and Dobbs has made clear that violations of the order will be heavily investigated.

Read the JFP’s coverage of COVID-19 at jacksonfreepress.com/covid19. Get more details on preventive measures here. Email state reporter Nick Judin at nick@jacksonfreepress.com and follow him on Twitter @nickjudin.

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