Thursday, January 7, 2021
Mississippi has rapidly accelerated its vaccination availability schedule, with members of the general public aged 75 and up already receiving their first shots at Mississippi State Department of Health drive-thru sites.
At the same time, the pandemic in the state continues to escalate to unprecedented levels. Today, MSDH announced 3,255 new cases of COVID-19, as well as 48 deaths, post-holiday numbers that are the highest single-day report of new cases in the pandemic so far.
At a Wednesday press event, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs explained that the mobile vaccination stations, based on the testing sites continuing to operate around Mississippi, have already been operating smoothly. “We launched our county drive-thru stations—18 across the state—starting Monday, and it really has been a wonderful success so far,” Dobbs said.
All Mississippians age 75 or older, as well as public-facing health-care providers, can schedule vaccinations at MSDH’s drive-thru locations by going to https://covidvaccine.umc.edu/ or by calling 877-978-6453: though as of press time, the vast majority of presently available appointments are already taken.
Dobbs told the Jackson Free Press that currently about 6,000 doses would be available each week through the MSDH drive-thru locations. “We’re looking to increase that,” the health official said. “We’re making sure our operations are efficient.”
Thus far, that appears to be the case. “People have been able to get in and out without really any difficulty,” Dobbs said. “Some of them we timed: it was from start to finish about 23 minutes, and that's including 15 minutes’ wait time after you get back.”
Vaccine Availability in Mississippi Still Limited
The brief waiting period after vaccination is to ensure that no allergic reaction occurs—a rare occurrence. On Jan. 6, The Washington Post reported that of 1.9 million delivered doses of vaccines, only 21 severe allergic reactions have occurred.
The state of vaccine availability in Mississippi is still limited. MSDH’s most recent updates on the total allocations show 189,000 allocated doses of vaccine, with 78,000 of those doses portioned to the state’s long-term-care facilities for use on patients and health-care workers alike.
Importantly, allocated doses do not mean administered or even physically received vials of vaccine. Allocation is the first step of the process, whereby MSDH and other partners in the vaccination effort schedule dose availability. That includes those given to Walgreens and CVS, which are federally contracted to provide vaccinations to the nation’s long-term care settings.
As the vaccine effort expands to the general public, four avenues of vaccination delivery are emerging. In addition to MSDH’s drive-thru stations and the private-sector delivery of doses to long-term care facilities, many of the state’s hospitals are receiving vials of vaccine to administer to those who qualify. Private clinics, too, can now request and begin scheduling vaccine delivery.
Addressing the Double Disparity
In the days to come, a critical concern for vaccine access will be the guarantee of racial equity in vaccine delivery. Through 2020, Black Mississippians constituted 40.1% of all reported cases of COVID-19, as well as 43.5% of all of the disease’s fatalities, disproportionate to their roughly 38% of the population.
Yet, as of Jan. 5, Dobbs revealed that only 17% of vaccine recipients were Black. The state health officer committed his agency to addressing this double disparity of excessive cases and fatalities paired with insufficient vaccinations.
“There's two big pieces to this,” Dobbs told the Jackson Free Press. “One, do you have access? Is it in your neighborhood, your doctor's office? (Two,) do you believe in the vaccine … do you trust the health-care system? Those go hand in hand.”
By Dobbs’ own admission, the solution to addressing this looming disparity is a combination of outreach to Black communities, such as through the public vaccination of Black medical leaders that MSDH publicized earlier this week, and aggressively providing access to the vaccine to clinics and hospitals in rural communities, such as the Mississippi Delta, and other medically underserved areas.
Part of that strategy must include Federally Qualified Health Centers, which provide health services to communities without the need for payment or health insurance. Dobbs told the Jackson Free Press that any FQHC that requested the vaccine would receive it.