Thousands of vaccine doses intended for state’s most vulnerable still waiting to be administered

Other states outpace Mississippi in vaccinating those in long-term care facilities, says state health officer
Updated: Jan. 13, 2021 at 9:51 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - While Mississippi’s COVID-19 vaccine supply dries up for those seeking new appointments, tens of thousands of doses sit unused for the state’s residents who live in long-term care facilities because of ill-equipped national pharmacy chains at the helm.

As of Monday, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said 3,271 coronavirus vaccine doses were administered at long-term care facilities across the state thus far, which is four percent of the 78,000 first-time doses designated for those facilities.

“We’re a little bit disappointed to see that other states around us like Louisiana and Alabama are getting vaccinated about five times the rate or four times the rate of our Mississippi folks,” Dobbs said Monday during a Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee hearing. “And I’m just not sure why that is. And it’s also reflecting poorly on our state.”

Dobbs’ remarks prompted Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, to ask whether the doses could be given to facilities to administer the shots themselves.

“The way that the partnership program works, the vaccines in the long-term care facilities that have selected us and Walgreens can only be administered by our staff,” said Brooke Tiner, who serves as the senior director of government relations for CVS/Aetna.

CVS and Walgreens have a federal contract to provide these doses to more than two hundred long-term care facilities in the state.

What’s preventing them from doling out more doses?

“For us, it’s just the labor and capacity. We had staffing challenges in Mississippi before the COVID vaccine was ever available,” said Roy Armstrong, regional health care director for Walgreens. “In other states like Texas, where we don’t have any staffing issues, we can move a lot quicker.”

Right now, some long-term care facilities aren’t scheduled for vaccinations until February 11, leaving few options on the table for them until then.

Tiner said the only other solution, which she doesn’t recommend, is dis-enrolling certain nursing homes from the federal partnership, which would then return those doses to the Department of Health so it can carry out the vaccinations.

“I don’t know of any group of folks that ought to be higher on everybody’s list than nursing home residents, who not only are extremely high risk, but unlike other folks, have no choice but to be in this facility,” Bryan said.

Dobbs told reporters he’s working on a way to get those doses to people in those facilities, but has not specified how that would happen.

For those outside long-term care facilities, the opposite has been true: demand over the last two days has outpaced any supply the state has for first-time doses. Some residents said they waited hours, and in some cases, days to schedule an appointment.

Mike, a central Mississippi resident who didn’t want his full name revealed because of patient privacy concerns, said he tried a dozen times to schedule his vaccine shot, eventually getting an answer a day later.

“I woke up and saw the message, ‘You were 39 in the queue.’ And I thought, what does that mean? Does that mean I’m at 39 in the queue to get an appointment?” Mike said. “Thirty-nine in the queue to sit in my car waiting to be called? So it was very unclear. So one of my complaints is that the site appears to be not very stable. And it does not provide enough information to make it really clear what you should expect.”

Kim Corbell, a cancer survivor from Monroe County, said she felt an urgency to get vaccinated because of her compromised immune system.

“I stay home and I stay in anyway, I don’t go anywhere. But for people that have to go to work and be exposed to other people and all, it is a race against time,” Corbell said. “And if it’s frustrating for me, I can only imagine how it’s gonna be for my parents. I don’t believe they have the web capacity. I think they were overloaded. I don’t think they were prepared for the influx.”

We tried to schedule an appointment Wednesday morning, and even though we had thousands ahead of us in the virtual line, within 20 minutes we were presented with a questionnaire and opportunity to pick a location for the vaccination, meaning the process itself and wait times vary greatly.

Many say the numbers provided by MSDH to residents stay busy, too. Mike said his queue in line at one time was behind more than eight thousand people.

He even talked to an MSDH employee to get clarification, but that didn’t help.

“I still don’t know, after all this extremely long and tedious process, where things stand,” Mike said.

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