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COVID-19 Vaccine Slots Full in Mississippi After ‘Monumental Surge’

Tate Reeves
Gov. Tate Reeves announced a massive expansive to COVID-19 vaccine availability yesterday. Within a day, the Mississippi State Department of Health’s entire January supply of Moderna vaccine had been scheduled for delivery at drive-through locations. Photo by Ashton Pittman

Mississippi’s rapidly shifting vaccination plan has hit a sudden roadblock: All doses allocated to the Mississippi State Department of Health’s public delivery system have been accounted for, putting an end to public access to new doses of the vaccine, outside private clinics, until February.

The rapid influx of new residents seeking vaccination follows yesterday’s announcement of vaccine availability for all Mississippians 65 and older, as well as those aged 18 to 64 with a broad range of underlying conditions including smoking and obesity. Immediately, a wave of activity nearly crippled MSDH’s vaccine hotline and scheduling website.

Earlier this evening, a MSDH press release summed up the evaporation of available appointments.

“The Mississippi State Department of Health had a vaccine distribution plan in place that has been significantly altered in the last few days—especially in the last 24 hours,” the statement said. “Neither the county health department drive-through sites nor the UMMC vaccine scheduling website was designed to accommodate the monumental surge we are currently experiencing. At this time, we have no additional vaccine, and every appointment is tied to an actual vaccination.”

Hours later, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs took to social media to clarify some of the misunderstandings that resulted from the sudden news.

“If you have had a dose already, your second shot should be available as planned,” he tweeted. “You will be allowed to schedule a follow-up appointment.”

The Moderna vaccine available at MSDH’s drive-through locations requires a follow-up shot 28 days after the initial dose. Dobbs’ confirmation suggests enough supply remains to provide all currently scheduled Mississippians with a second dose of the vaccine.

At the beginning of the week, state leadership warned that hundreds of unfilled vaccination appointments were waiting for takers. That problem—a lack of interested parties, then limited to a pool of Mississippians over age 75, has clearly been resolved with the expanded guidelines. But the near collapse of the appointment system reveals just how rapidly the decision to expand the vaccines to so many people had been made.

Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, seen here receiving his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in early January 2021, took to Twitter after the sudden announcement of an end to MSDH appointment availability to clarify that sufficient stock was withheld to ensure that all Mississippians receive their second-dose shot four weeks after the first. Screencap courtesy MSDH

At an evening press event, Mississippi State Medical Association President Dr. Mark Horne said that the Mississippi State Department of Health had only one hour’s notice before the governor’s announcement of expanded availability and the commensurate surge of new appointments.

Dr. Dobbs quickly responded, telling the Mississippi Free Press that, for clarity’s sake, MSDH “(was) part of the decision to move forward on the expansion. (It) makes sense to protect those most vulnerable.” But the state health officer acknowledged that the surge was beyond what the system could handle. “The intensity of immediate demand did exceed capacity,” he said.

UMMC released a press statement suggesting the expanded availability was indeed a rapid affair. “Since we learned about the change in guidance when it was announced yesterday, we have been working diligently with our colleagues at the Mississippi State Department of Health to accommodate the changes as well as the changes needed to comply with federal data reporting requirements,” the statement read.

For the next two weeks, Mississippi has scheduled 52,000 shots for its MSDH drive-through locations. The governor challenged the assertion that no vaccine remained, tweeting that “It is not true that there are no more shots until mid-February. We just expect the number of weekly doses to surge at that point—allowing us to distribute even more per week.”

As of press time, it is unclear if the governor is referring to the heldover stock of second-shot doses, or if there is indeed more supply of first-shot doses for additional Mississippians who qualify.

The governor also provided an update on the total number of shots provided to Mississippians so far, stating that of 320,050 doses allocated in total, 73,391 have been administered with 198,075 of allocated doses marked as first shots. Allocations of 121,975 second-shot vaccinations are still mostly unadministered. 

“In other states,” the governor warned, “vaccines are expiring because of a dogmatic attachment to ‘tiers,’ and most residents have no hope of receiving a vaccine unless they are connected to an ‘essential business.’”

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