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Health officials: Low vaccination rate keeps communities vulnerable

As Mississippi continues to fight its plateauing vaccination numbers, health officials are urging the state’s residents to take the shot to help keep COVID-19 and its emerging variants at bay. 

The latest figures shared by the Mississippi State Department of Health during a press conference indicate that just 33% of Mississippians have gotten their first dose of the vaccine with 30% being fully vaccinated—both last in the country. 

While case numbers remain low compared to the peaks of 2020 and early 2021, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs reiterated that now is no time for apathy. 

“We’ve been through the worst pandemic in over a century. We’ve lost over 600,000 Americans, it’s now the third leading cause of death in this country and we have an opportunity; we have an exit door and too many of us are choosing not to use that door. When we don’t all use it together at a sufficient number, it keeps us all vulnerable. It keeps us vulnerable as individuals. We are seeing an increasing number of cases and deaths in our 40-year-old folks, and it also leaves our communities vulnerable.”

Dr. Dobbs warned that a low vaccination rate will lead to ongoing outbreaks that could impede the ability to fully open schools due to quarantines. Additionally, he stated that continued community transmission could further threaten those who are more at risk of contracting the virus—the elderly, cancer patients, transplant patients or those who are immunocompromised. 

A low vaccination rate also allows for the spread of variants. State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers explained that the UK variant (Alpha) remains the state’s most prevalent variant strain with 650 cases. Although there are just 29 cases at this time, Dr. Byers warned that the Indian variant (Delta) is an emerging threat across the country. 

“It is even more infectious than the UK variant strain, and because of that increased infectiousness, not only can it be transmitted to those individuals who are unvaccinated, but it can also be transmitted to folks who are fully vaccinated who may not be completely protected from the vaccine or may be in congregate settings where their exposure rises to a higher level,” Dr. Byers explained. 

On a positive note, Dr. Dobbs explained that over 76% of the state’s 65+ population has received at least their first dose of the vaccine. Speaking to those Mississippians of all ages that remain on the fence, Dr. Dobbs issued the following choice. 

“You have a choice. You get the vaccine or get COVID. The vaccine is effective and COVID has killed over 600,000 Americans. The choice is easy; protect yourself, protect your family, protect your community,” Dr. Dobbs said. 

In terms of access to the vaccine, Senior Deputy & Director of Health Protection Jim Craig explained that the MSDH is continuing to plan pop-up vaccination sites across the state to make it easy for all Mississippians to get the shot. As the Mississippi National Guard winds down its operations, Craig explained that there will be increased availability at county health departments and at the pop-up sites. 

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