Mississippi is seeing a small uptick in new hospitalizations of COVID-19, worrying the public-health officials at the Mississippi State Department of Health. As of Nov. 29, 201 patients with confirmed COVID-19 infections were in Mississippi hospitals, far below the recent peak of the Delta surge but an uptick from the lows that followed.
“Mississippi’s upward trend in COVID-19 hospitalizations continues,” the state health agency wrote on Twitter. “This is a concerning development, and emphasizes the need for protective steps, especially vaccination, over the coming weeks.”
Of particular concern to health officials is the low rate of senior citizens with active booster doses.
“COVID hospitalization on the rise and most older Mississippians un-boosted,” State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs wrote on Tuesday. “Booster doses (are) especially important for Mississippians 65+ or with any medical condition.”
For Mississippians over age 50, more than two-thirds of the entire state have been fully vaccinated—significantly more in the oldest age groups. But even among Mississippians older than 75, less than half have received a booster dose, representing a threat to the demographics most likely to face a severe breakthrough case.
Immunity to COVID-19 through vaccination has shown enduring protection against hospitalization and death, even as evidence has suggested that protection against symptomatic transmission wanes after four to six months. But MSDH data has also shown that the oldest Mississippians are the most likely to have serious consequences from breakthrough cases.
Health experts have suggested numerous reasons for this disparity. Older individuals are more likely to have serious comorbidities that can exacerbate COVID-19 infections, and elderly immune systems are more likely to respond poorly to the immunizing antibodies of the vaccination.
The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control have encouraged all adults to get a booster shot six months after being fully vaccinated, or two months after receiving a single dose of Johnson & Johnson. But that recommendation is even more important for potentially immunocompromised older adults.
Hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes are the leading three conditions associated with COVID-19 deaths, across all racial demographics.
Looming over all of this is the oncoming omicron variant of COVID-19, a potentially dangerous new strain that South African viral surveillance efforts first identified.
Omicron, which some virologists have speculated may have emerged in either a heavily immunocompromised individual, or developed in an animal reservoir before spreading back to humans, carries numerous mutations, far more than most variants that have emerged thus far.
But experts are clear that it is simply too early to make confident statements about what omicron will mean for the world. Extensive study is needed to determine its infectiousness, its potential for immune escape, its severity, and its ability to outcompete other heavily infectious variants like delta.
As of now, health experts say, the same precautions that work for the original strain of COVID-19, and the variants of concern such as delta, are the best protection against omicron, when it eventually arrives in Mississippi: vaccination, ventilation, distancing, testing and masking.