All Mississippians aged 16 or older are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine starting the morning of March 16. The expansion in eligibility comes well ahead of the Biden administration’s end target for May 1 for the entire nation to have access to their first shot of vaccine, and follows a slowdown in vaccine signups.
Mississippi is now the first state in the contiguous U.S. to offer open vaccination to all residents. Currently, only Alaska shares Mississippi’s unrestricted vaccine availability. Previously, state health leadership and the governor alike explained that a decline in the speed of filling vaccination appointments would serve as the trigger for opening eligibility.
Mississippi is continuing toward its vaccination targets. As of March 15, 582,217 residents have received at least one dose of vaccine. Additionally, 323,819 residents are now fully vaccinated, just over 11% of the population of the state. Currently, Mississippi’s vaccination target is significantly lower than its total population. More than 700,000 children reside in Mississippi, nearly one-fourth of the entire state is. Most of that population is currently ineligible for any of the vaccines—additional trials are needed to specifically study their safety.
In total, 27% of vaccines have gone to Black Mississippians, still well below the 38% of the population that this demographic represents.
COVID-19 spread remains low, but the downward trends in transmission from previous weeks have leveled off following Gov. Tate Reeves’ full reopening of the state. The current rolling seven-day average is 461, with the last three non-weekend reports averaging over 700 cases a day.
With significant portions of the state’s elderly population vaccinated, the most vulnerable to severe complications of COVID-19, it remains to be seen whether the current inoculation rate will outpace increased spread from a return to close gatherings and a widespread reduction in mask use.
B1.1.7, the COVID-19 variant originating in the United Kingdom that has been confirmed in Mississippi, is now strongly evidenced to be both more virulent and deadlier, as shown in a new paper in Nature magazine. The study suggests that the strain is associated with 55% increased mortality when compared to other variants of the virus.
Preliminary findings about the lethality of the new strain aside, its virulence is even more well established, with some scientists estimating that B1.1.7 could be the dominant strain across the U.S. before March ends. In some states, that process is well underway.
With the growing predominance of the more infectious strain, vaccinating as much of the population of Mississippi as is possible becomes even more pressing. There is ample evidence that the vaccines are completely effective against the B1.1.7 strain. Though the B188.8.131.52 strain originally discovered in South Africa shows meaningful antibody resistance, early studies have shown that the currently available COVID-19 vaccines are effective, at minimum, at preventing its worst outcomes, including hospitalization and death.
All Mississippians 16 and older may sign up for the vaccine beginning March 16 at the following link: https://covidvaccine.umc.edu/. Residents may also call 877-978-6453 to schedule an appointment.