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MSDH passes on 870k COVID-19 vaccine doses allocated for state as demand drops

Updated: Jun. 11, 2021 at 8:31 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - As COVID-19 vaccination demand keeps falling in Mississippi, the state’s health department confirmed it has turned away hundreds of thousands of allocated doses, with some moved to states that have greater needs.

Agency spokesperson Liz Sharlot confirmed 871,950 doses - labeled as “transferred” in an email to 3 On Your Side - that had been allocated for Mississippi to use if needed.

“Those doses were simply not ordered. Some reporters are getting that confused,” Sharlot said, referring to at least one news organization reporting the doses were returned or rejected outright.

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs says those doses weren’t transferred; they were never sent to Mississippi.

MSDH worked with Rhode Island and Maine to make sure they were able to get more than 64,000 Moderna doses altogether from that federal allocation.

Dobbs said he and his staff are also going to continue to make the vaccine available to everyone all over our state as much as they can.

“I think that the flip side of this is, which is really remarkable, is just to say, you know, this isn’t a Mississippi issue. I think that the federal government and our partners who’ve developed these vaccines have done a fantastic job in making these available, as reflected by the the surplus,” Dobbs said. “We didn’t know that both Moderna and the Pfizer would be so remarkably effective.”

State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said they have ample vaccine in this state for those who need it, noting that, to his knowledge, the agency didn’t order any federal doses over the last two weeks.

“Y’all remember when we were in this early, back in January, in February that the issue was that we had people clamoring for vaccine, and we just didn’t have the doses?” Byers said. “We’re spreading them throughout the state. And we’ve got the doses now. We need people to line back up and come get ‘em again.”

The decline in demand among Mississippians has consistently decreased each week for the last three weeks, hitting its lowest point since January.

MSDH data indicates 31 percent of Mississippians are fully vaccinated; a New York Times analysis of all fifty states ranks Mississippi lowest in the nation in terms of percent of those fully vaccinated, with 28 percent.

Last weekend, Gov. Tate Reeves told CNN that around a million Mississippians already had natural immunity, because they likely already had COVID-19.

Health experts say that’s likely true, but don’t want people to interpret the governor’s statement as saying that if you’ve already had the virus, you don’t need the shot.

“Many people believe that somewhere between 4 and 5 times more people that have gotten the virus, that have not tested have gotten the virus. And so, we’ve got somewhere between a million or so that have natural immunity,” Reeves said Sunday.

Reeves told Jake Tapper this in response to a question about Mississippi remaining last in the nation for the percentage of residents fully vaccinated.

That natural immunity Reeves alluded to, however, comes at a cost.

“We certainly are getting some population benefit from our previous cases, but we paid for it. We paid for it with deaths,” Dobbs said.

Byers also quickly pointed out that the natural immunity from having the virus is very different than what comes from being vaccinated.

“The best way to ensure immunity, the best way to ensure that you have a long term and full protection is to get vaccinated, not to rely solely on the fact that you were previously infected or you think you may have been infected,” Byers said.

Mississippi’s COVID-19 cases have also dropped significantly in recent weeks, now hovering over 130 cases a day, which also presents a challenge to those hesitant to get the shot: they may not see the urgency.

“Don’t be fooled by the numbers. Because more people are vaccinated, more people are asymptomatic, meaning that they’re not having symptoms,” said Dr. Justin Turner, an internal medicine specialist with a clinic in south Jackson. “And if they’re not having symptoms, they’re probably not going to get tested. And if they’re not getting tested, we’re not seeing those numbers reflect [that].”

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