JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi residents 75 and older are now eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine. Mississippi health officials say they are looking to ramp up distribution as quickly and safely as possible as cases and virus-related deaths continue to reach peak levels in the state.
“We know that people in this group are at the highest risk for severe illness, for hospitalization and also for death, and it’s very important that we offer it to those folks,” said State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs at a Wednesday news briefing.
Mississippi reported a record 91 virus-related deaths in one day Tuesday — something Dobbs said is weighing heavily on officials’ minds.
Starting Wednesday, those 75 and over can get vaccinated at 18 high-volume drive-through sites throughout the state, Dobbs said.
Appointments can be made for the drive-through clinics. Patients are required to fill in their date of birth on the form, but verification will be on the honor system, Dobbs said. Those with additional questions can call the MSDH COVID-19 Hotline at 1-877-978-6453.
Dobbs said the drive-through sites are set to accommodate at least 300 patients this week, with another 6,000 slots available for patients next week.
“We know that those appointments are filling up very quickly,” Dobbs said.
Additionally, more than 170 private clinics and community health centers that wish to start vaccinating patients have requested doses from the state Department of Health.
Dobbs said 9,500 doses have already been sent out to private clinics and community health centers to vaccinate employees. Those facilities have been approved to begin using the leftover vaccine on qualifying patients. More vaccine will be on the way to those sites soon. The Department of Health will release the names of the private clinics that will be vaccinating patients in the coming days.
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Republican Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday that he hoped to get vaccinations up and running for those over 75 by next week, but the Department of Health made it happen sooner. Reeves said he aims to make those over 65 eligible for vaccinations next.
So far, 43% of the 53,000 doses allocated to health systems have been used to vaccinate health care employees. Approximately 1.4% of the vaccine allocated for long-term care facilities — around 78,000 doses — has been administered. Walgreens and CVS Health are running that initiative through contracts with the federal government.
During a meeting of the Mississippi Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday, representatives from CVS and Walgreens said they are working quickly to add more staff to speed up the process, including looking to pharmacists out of state to help.
Executive Director of the Mississippi Board of Pharmacy Susan McCoy said there are plenty of pharmacists in Mississippi that would be willing to assist. She said she would put a call out to pharmacists to apply to join the program.
“We need to get people immunized, and I don’t think someone who’s about to die of the virus cares where the person comes from,” Chairman Sen. Hob Bryan said. Bryan said CVS and Walgreens officials should do anything in their power to fold more professionals from both Mississippi and-out of-state into the process.
Dobbs asked that residents remain patient during the vaccination rollout process.
“I know folks are very anxious to have it done, but it needs to be done in an orderly way and an efficient way,” he said.
Leah Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Trademark and Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.