As Pandemic Ebbs, MSDH Drops Vaccine Scheduling Requirements

COVID-19 Vaccination Drive-through
The Mississippi State Department of Health confirmed to the Mississippi Free Press that all MSDH drive-through and pop-up vaccination sites are now open to walk-up vaccinations, without prior appointments. Photo by U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Spc. Christopher Shannon II

Mississippians can now show up at a Mississippi State Department of Health vaccination site and receive the COVID-19 vaccine without previously scheduling an appointment. The last remaining barriers to vaccination for residents 12 and older end at a time when vaccinations—and new cases of COVID-19—have dwindled to new lows.

MSDH Director of Health Protection Jim Craig confirmed the policy in a statement to the Mississippi Free Press. “We are happy to serve walk-ups that meet the requirements for vaccination at our walk-in or pop-up sites,” Craig wrote. Mississippians seeking second shots on a scheduled or walk-up basis should bring their vaccination card.

A list of vaccination sites is available on the Mississippi State Department of Health website. Also available is a list of temporary pop-up vaccination locations.

The current seven-day rolling average of new cases remains at 162, comparable only to the earliest days of the pandemic, well before the summer spike of 2020. Public-health officials credit the vaccine with the significant decline in new cases and fatalities.

“(The) proportion of COVID in older Mississippians plummets due to vaccinations,” State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs wrote on social media in late May. The percentage of COVID-19 fatalities in adults aged 65 and older has deflated from 80% during the pandemic’s peak in the state to nearly 50% here in May, with no perceptible reason beyond widespread vaccinations.


 

The opening of the Pfizer vaccine to adolescents caused a small uptick in new shots, but Mississippi’s total vaccinations and current rate of new shots are still the worst in the nation. Source: MSDH.

Yet Mississippi remains far behind the curve on vaccinations, dead last in the U.S., with only one-third of the population having received at least a single dose. The week ending May 22 brought the first slight uptick in new vaccinations since March, likely as a result of Pfizer vaccine approval for adolescents aged 12 to 15. But the state’s vaccination effort is still trudging along slowly, a far cry from the high points in spring, when more than 100,000 Mississippians were vaccinated each week. 

Mississippi’s vaccinations effort has already borne fruit, with visible trends showing shrinking case numbers in vulnerable populations. But dangerous consequences could still creep in if the sluggish pace of vaccination continues.

On May 27, the Mississippi State Department of Health announced a small cluster of breakthrough cases in a pair of long-term care facilities. Breakthrough cases are infections in fully vaccinated Mississippians, vanishingly rare but more likely in older adults with compromised immune systems.

In the case of the LTC breakthroughs, MSDH detected the South African variant of the virus among the infected individuals. Repeated studies confirm that all available vaccines in the U.S. are still extremely effective against the variants of the virus currently known, but the same studies found that the variants display some antibody resistance.

The vaccines currently available provide excellent protection against severe disease,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers explained. “While these illnesses are caused by variant strains, the outcomes of all these cases would likely be much more severe if they were not vaccinated.”

The only protection against rare, but possible breakthrough cases in long-term care facilities is the full vaccination of staff, Byers explained. “It’s vitally important that all health-care and long-term care facility staff get vaccinated against COVID-19. We need to protect our most vulnerable populations.”

Still, with case numbers at an all-time low, MSDH is transitioning away from daily COVID-19 reporting, announcing on Friday that its COVID-19 newsletter would become a weekly affair, rather than a daily one.

With the United States becoming one of the first nations to cross the 50% partially vaccinated barrier, containment of the virus—to whatever degree that may be possible—is coming into focus.

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