Mississippi continues to see improvement in the spread of COVID-19, with declining viral cases and rising vaccinations. Gov. Tate Reeves announced on Feb. 9 that more Mississippians had received at least one shot of vaccine than have ever contracted COVID-19, the first of many milestones in the long road toward exterminating the virus in the state.
The current seven-day rolling average for new cases of COVID-19 is 919, a far cry from the bloated all-time high of more than 2,400 in only January. Hospitalizations, too, show a precipitous decline, down to 690 confirmed cases from a January peak of 1,444.
Vaccinations have crested at 288,699, and second shots are rapidly following, with 81,790 delivered in total. The state’s population is just under 3 million. Census estimates from 2019 peg the over-18 population, the core demographic for vaccinations, at 2,276,754, leaving just under 2 million Mississippians left to receive shots.
MSDH drive-throughs are responsible for a little less than half of all vaccinations in the state thus far. Over half of all vaccinations have gone to residents aged 65 and older—with two-thirds of the remaining portion to 50-to-64 year olds with pre-existing conditions, or who work in health-care settings.
Walmart Providing Vaccinations
Walmart is now providing vaccinations to qualifying Mississippians as well. A list of participating Walmart stores can be found here, with the signup link (requiring a free Walmart web account) located here. As of Feb. 10, the Walmart signup link is active with limited capacity, but Mississippians seeking vaccination should check back regularly, in addition to using UMMC’s MSDH drive-through vaccination signup, as well as checking for local clinics and hospitals offering vaccination shots here.
Mississippi’s current vaccination rate is far from its peak capacity. Both demand for the vaccine and the state’s ability to deliver shots greatly exceed the current supply of doses. State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs explained the outside limits of potential vaccine delivery at an Association of State and Territorial Health Officials media event on Feb. 4.
“We are only tapping into about a third of our vaccination capacity, if that much. If we got more vaccine, we could vaccinate two to three times more people—easily—based on what we’re doing and what our partners are able to do,” Dobbs said.
Some of that capacity is going to out-of-state residents, Dobbs confirmed Monday, estimating that 2% of COVID-19 vaccinations delivered in the state so far have gone to out-of-state residents.
There are no legally binding barriers on out of state residents signing up for vaccinations in Mississippi, from places like Louisiana, where 18-64 year olds with pre-existing conditions have not yet become eligible for a shot.
Dobbs to Non-Mississippians: Don’t Lie for a Shot
Still, Dobbs pleaded with out-of-state residents not to lie on the vaccination forms to get a shot. Allocations to states are based in large part on population—excessive crossing of the state line could result in disproportionate rates of vaccination for Mississippians.
The state health officer offered a defense of the open vaccination process, saying that demanding identification or proof of residence at vaccination sites could result in Mississippians without IDs being prevented from getting a needed vaccine. “We’re fighting barriers,” Dobbs said. “We don’t want to create barriers.”
Previously, state health leadership has come out strongly for all to have access to the vaccine, including undocumented residents and workers. Additional barriers on vaccine access are likely to exacerbate pre-existing disparities in immunization.
It may be some time before Mississippi increases its supply of available vaccine. The most promising news on that front comes courtesy of Johnson & Johnson, the pharmaceutical company which most recently applied for an emergency use authorization for its single-shot vaccine.
If the FDA approves the vaccine in late February, a highly likely outcome given the shot’s effectiveness, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota estimates it will be the end of March before the new shot becomes widely available.