COVID-19 vaccines are now available to Mississippians over 65 years old or who have pre-existing medical conditions, the people at highest risk of severe cases of the virus, Gov. Tate Reeves said Tuesday.

The Pike County Health Department in McComb will give COVID-19 vaccines to eligible patients from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays. People are asked to schedule their appointments by calling (877) 978-6453, 601-965-4071 or visiting covidvaccine.umc.edu.

The announcement Tuesday continued Reeves’ push to get more vaccinations to the state’s vulnerable populations.

He partly attributed slow rates to the delay in nursing home vaccinations. Reeves said the federal pharmacy partnership that is responsible for those shots has been moving slow in every state because there aren’t enough trained pharmacy staff to visit the homes more quickly.

He also pointed to the fact that some vaccines allotted to healthcare workers are going unused.

“They’ve been given an allocation, and they’ve not used them, and that has to stop,” Reeves said. “We need to get this right, and we need to get this right fast.”

Reeves warned that in a week or two, the federal government will start adjusting how many vaccines are allocated to each state based on how much it has used its previous allocation.

““And I don’t blame them,” Reeves said. “We have too many vaccines that have been distributed that aren’t already in arms.”

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs urged healthcare workers to get the vaccine when they are able, especially those working in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes.

The state health department estimates that at nursing homes that have received their vaccines, about 80% of residents are getting the shot while only 33% or fewer of the employees there are doing the same.

Data isn’t complete on exactly what percentages of hospital staff are taking the shots, but tightening requirements on facilities submitting those numbers is part of Reeves’ plan to avoid wasted doses.

Dobbs also lamented a drop this week in the already low numbers of Black Mississippians who are getting vaccinated. Estimates show that only 16% of the shots given in the past week were to Black citizens, down from 18% last week.

Dobbs said he has heard from many Black residents that they’re waiting to get the vaccine from their personal doctor. He said the danger in that is not all clinics and physicians are going to be providing the shots.

Reeves is hopeful the state’s vaccinated population will continue to increase given the past week’s momentum. A week ago, Mississippi had only administered about 20,000 COVID-19 vaccinations in the previous three weeks. Now, there have been 62,744 shots given.

“So we more than doubled total output just over last week alone,” Reeves said. “We believe we have a plan that should get us very near doubling yet again in Week 5 what we have done in Week 4.” 

The plan is for the state’s drive-thru vaccination sites giving 30,000 shots a week.

While 7,500 shots on average were given per week for the first three weeks, there were that many given this Monday. Of the total 62,744 vaccinations in Mississippi, 57,014 are first doses; 5,730 people have gotten both doses.

Dobbs encouraged residents to get the vaccine unless they have medical reasons not to and advised them to not trust social media claims that the COVID-19 vaccines alter DNA, cause infertility or disable children.

“The enormity of that lie is immediately apparent since no kids have gotten the vaccine,” he said. “For pregnant women, we do say discuss it with your physician, but there’s no evidence of harm. It’s made-up nonsense. It’s not real. Don’t get your science off of Facebook.”

He said the vaccine should bring the finish line of the pandemic into sight, but that doesn’t mean people should stop being careful.

“The obituaries are getting longer and longer, and that’s likely to continue,” he said. “Do the safe things a little bit longer,” like wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding gatherings.

Mississippi State Department of Health reported 1,648 new cases of COVID-19 statewide Tuesday and 98 deaths, the most COVID-19-related deaths reported in a single day in Mississippi.

Fifty-two of those deaths occurred Jan. 5-11, including two in Lincoln County and one in Franklin County. The other 46 occurred from Oct. 28 to Jan. 8, as identified from death certificates, including one death from Pike County.

There were 16 new cases of the virus reported in Pike County on Tuesday. Amite County added two new cases, Lawrence County added three, Lincoln added 20, and Walthall and Wilkinson counties added three each. There were no new cases reported in Franklin County.

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