State health officials said Wednesday that all of Mississippi’s allottment of the COVID-19 vaccine has been accounted for as patient appointments quickly outpaced availability.

“At this time, we have no additional vaccine, and every appointment is tied to an actual vaccination,” a news release from the Mississippi state Department of Health read.

State health officials said they expect to receive a large shipment of vaccines in mid-February.

“We understand the frustration brought on by this sudden change of plans. We will certainly keep all Mississippians updated regarding additional vaccine,” the news release said.     

Appointments for vaccines were filling up quickly at Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center’s newly opened drive-thru vaccination clinic on Wednesday, the first day the hospital began offering shots to the general public.

Hospital officials working at the clinic said dates in February were mostly booked up.

Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kevin Richardson told the McComb city board Tuesday night that the vaccine is the best way to reach herd immunity.

He compared immunity to the story of the three little pigs, saying people have innate immunity — the straw house — which is easily defeated by the virus until adaptive immunity — introduced by the vaccine — kicks in. The vaccine uses messenger RNA to tell the body how to make and destroy a protein that is unique to the coronavirus.

“The mRNA vaccines work by simply presenting the body with a perfect blueprint on how to transform from a simple straw house into a nearly perfect brick house,” Richardson said. “No one knows how long our super strong post-vaccine brick house will last, but we do know that it does a great job at preventing severe disease, and probably also reduces viral spread as well.”

As of Jan. 10, SMRMC had given 254 doses of the vaccine to hospital workers.

On Wednesday the hospital opened up its vaccine allotment to those 65 or older and those with pre-existing conditions from 1-4 p.m.  Monday through Thursday by appointment at the Medical Arts Building on 300 Rawls Drive. Appointments can be made by calling (601) 250-4210.

Richardson, who has taken the vaccine himself, said there are possible side effects, but fears are overblown, noting that of the more than 6 million shots given nationwide, few people have experienced bad reactions.

Richardson said the reason hospitals and the state are the primary givers of the vaccine over people’s family doctors is because of the expense and order size of the vaccines. State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers noted Pfizer has a minimum order number of 975 doses and Moderna has a minimum order number of 100, which Richardson said makes it impractical for family doctors, citing the shelf life of the vaccine, storage requirements and the fact that once a vial is opened it only has about a six-hour lifespan.

Richardson said COVID-19 continues to ravage Southwest Mississippi.

“The bottom line is that when it comes to COVID-19 in Mississippi, things are really bad,” Richardson said, starting his presentation. “The deaths have skyrocketed in the last few weeks. ... We’ve been very busy at the hospital.

“Instead of having one death every one to three weeks like we had seen for a long time, now we’ve been having one death every one to three days, and this hasn’t gone away.”

As of Tuesday, the hospital had seen 456 COVID-19 patients since the beginning of the pandemic, with 63 deaths. Richardson noted that only 10 of the patients put on ventilators at the hospital have recovered, and as long as the spread of the virus continues, there will only be more deaths.

“Why is this all happen-ing? I think we know. I think we know we are not distancing, we are not masking like we should,” he said. “The virus is spreading, and with every person who gets it, they spread it to two more.”

Richardson said experts estimate the country must get 70% of the population either vaccinated or infected with the virus to reach herd immunity. Without a vaccine, he said, an estimated 1.2 million people would die before the country got to 60% immunity.

But Richardson noted there was a solution already available: the vaccine.

“How do we get out of this? By getting 70% im-munity throughout this state,” he said. “We have to spread the word.”

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