Gov. Tate Reeves batted .500 last week in the decisions he made dealing with the state’s efforts to vaccinate Mississippi residents against COVID-19.
If this were baseball, that would be a great average. But given the seriousness of the pandemic and the number of lives it has claimed, 1-for-2 is nothing to celebrate.
First, the home run. Reeves set a good example not just by getting the shot, but letting people watch him do so live. It’s important to convince the public not to be apprehensive about being vaccinated, because the only way to get to that magical point of herd immunity is if the vast majority of people are vaccinated.
Some folks don’t like getting shots, either because they worry about the side effects, are suspicious of the government or have a fear of needles. There’s been a particular wariness about the COVID-19 vaccines because of the unprecedented speed in which they were developed. Those in the public sphere — particularly someone as prominent as a governor — can help persuade others to get on board by taking the shot and demonstrating that it’s safe to do so.
Reeves whiffed, though, when he tried to dramatically speed up the number of people being vaccinated by expanding the eligibility to include those 65 or above, regardless of their health condition, plus anyone between the ages of 16 and 64 with a chronic health problem.
Prior to that, the vaccines had been reserved for those 75 and above, health-care workers and residents of nursing home and other long-term care facilities.
When the governor ordered the expansion, he did so without making sure the state’s reservation system for vaccination could handle it. Nearly immediately, the phone lines and online reservation system blew up, and by the following day, the Health Department shut it all down, saying that all the available vaccine had been committed until probably mid-February.
Then last Friday, the Health Department announced that it should be able to start a couple of weeks earlier than that with limited new appointments, based on additional doses anticipated to arrive weekly.
Reeves let his impatience with the pace of vaccination — and some bum advice from the outgoing Trump administration — get the best of him.
He has been frustrated that more of the state’s allotment of vaccine had not been used. Most of the places, though, where the lag was occurring — at the state’s hospitals and long-term care facilities — had nothing to do with the Health Department’s drive-by operations. Those were staying steadily booked.
When Reeves threw the doors open to more than half of the state’s population, it was like filling up a water bucket with a firehose.
The governor was taking his cues not from Mississippi’s health officials but from U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who hours prior to Reeves’ announcement had encouraged the states to do exactly what Reeves wound up doing.
Azar indicated there would be enough vaccine to cover the expected surge in demand since the administration had decided to release the reserve it had been holding for the required second shots.
The Washington Post reported, however, that no such reserve exists, that it had already been emptied by the Trump administration on the expectation that there would be enough coming through the pipeline from the vaccine manufacturers to ensure no one would miss a second shot.
To be fair, the Trump administration’s revised approach to vaccine distribution is precisely what Joe Biden has said he plans to do when he takes office. The problem is that Azar indicated, when he urged the states to expand their vaccination plans, that there would be a lot more vaccine immediately available than there actually is.
Reeves, despite his loyalties, should have known better than to trust what he was hearing from the White House. Although the Trump administration did a commendable job in ramping up the development of the vaccine, it has bungled most of the steps in dealing with this pandemic.
There is one positive takeaway from this past week’s major bottleneck. It shows lots of people in Mississippi are willing to get the shots.