COVID-19 vaccine arrives in MS, health officials receive first doses

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Photo courtesy of UMMC

Nine months after Mississippi’s first confirmed case of COVID-19, the state’s top medical experts became the first residents of the Magnolia State to receive the highly-anticipated vaccine.

During a Zoom press conference, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers and Senior Deputy/Director of Health Protection Jim Craig were the first three individuals to get their shots — a prelude to the delivery of 25,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to hospitals across the state. 

“It felt like a butterfly,” Dr. Dobbs said after his first dose was administered by Lois Moore, an immunization nurse with the MSDH. 

The second dose of the vaccine will be taken three weeks from now in order to reach full efficacy, which according to Pfizer is around 95%. 

Dr. Byers explained that the initial doses will be given to frontline healthcare workers. He went on to detail that when the state receives its first full allotment, there should be “adequate vaccine” for every resident and staff member in each of Mississippi’s long-term care facilities. To date, 1,558 Mississippi LTC residents have passed away from the virus. 

While this day is one to be celebrated as a sizable step in the right direction, Dr. Dobbs warned that now is not to time to let your guard down. 

“It’s not going to have a big impact over the next couple of weeks. This is just the start, this is just the beginning of the process. We will not have enough people immunized to affect population transmission,” Dr. Dobbs said. 

The state health officer noted that the largest initial impact will be in those long-term care environments and among hospital staffs, which he explained will critical in the coming weeks with hospitalizations continuing to rise. 

“It’s ugly right now, and it’s about to get a whole lot uglier,” he said. “There’s no way to imagine that these thousands and thousands of backlogged cases are not going to translate eventually into hospitalized patients and ICU patients…We see a real avalanche hitting the healthcare system soon.”

Currently, 61 of Mississippi’s 82 counties are under a mask mandate, and Tuesday, elective surgeries will be delayed at hospitals across the state.

At the time of the press conference, multiple healthcare facilities had received their first vaccine shipments. Among the facilities to receive their first doses today was the University of Mississippi Medical Center. A total of 3,900 doses were delivered to UMMC and transferred to on-campus ultra-cold freezers for storage with the first shots to be administered on Wednesday.

The vaccine is not yet available to the general public, but the MSDH is launching its education campaign to dispel rumors and false claims about the vaccine. 

“It’s okay to be concerned, it’s okay to be cautious, it’s okay to be thoughtful, there’s nothing wrong with that,” Dr. Dobbs said. “What I will say is, we believe in the vaccine. Myself, Jim Craig and Dr. Byers have been at the front end of this thing since day one, and us, along with other people who are leading this effort and looking at the data every day, have faith that this is the right path. 

Dr. Dobbs also instructed you to seek out reputable information from the MSDH and other medical providers. He said the unverified claims on social media should not be trusted. Known side effects to the shot include swelling at the injection site, fatigue and aches but Dr. Dobbs says those mild effects far outweigh contracting coronavirus. 

While distribution of the Pfizer vaccine is underway, Moderna is awaiting final approval on its candidate. If all goes according to plan, Dr. Byers stated that Mississippi could receive 50,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine by next week. 

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