Mississippi health officials are distributing both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to hospitals throughout the state.
In addition, the Mississippi State Department of Health is partnering with CVS and Walgreen’s pharmacies to distribute the vaccines to long-term care facilities such as nursing homes. Both companies are working in multiple states to ensure the people who are most vulnerable have access to the vaccine soon.
“Today’s rollout is the culmination of months of internal planning and demonstrates how the private sector can use its expertise to help solve some of our most critical challenges,” said Larry J. Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Health, in a statement.
CVS and Walgreen’s will also provide vaccinations to the general public when that time comes.
The state’s distribution plan is in the beginning weeks of what will be a monthslong process to get as many people as possible inoculated against the virus in the state.
So far, 12,600 doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been delivered to five major hospital systems throughout the state. The balance of the initial 25,000 doses is going to LTC facilities in addition to other shipments coming soon.
“It’s obviously a very large logistical challenge,” said State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs Tuesday of the distribution to the many LTC facilities throughout the state.
A total of 50,000 Moderna vaccines are in the process of going to smaller hospitals and soon, to county health offices to vaccinate health care workers not connected to hospitals, including doctor’s offices, acute care centers, dental offices and physical therapy centers. Initial rollout to other health care workers will begin in early January.
The Moderna vaccine is easier to distribute as it doesn’t require the ultra-cold storage that the Pfizer vaccine needs. It is also shipping in smaller batches, making it ideal for much of rural Mississippi. Both vaccines require two shots from 21 to 28 days apart to reach maximum effectiveness.
As vaccine doses continue to flow into the state, additional groups will be added for vaccinations, such as those over 65 or with preexisting conditions that make them more vulnerable to dying from the virus. It may be several months before the vaccine is available to otherwise healthy Mississippians.
“We are very excited to have access to a highly effective, very safe vaccine that could really push this COVID pandemic down on its knees,” Dobbs said. “This is an opportunity for us to look into a future of normalcy, a future of shared joy, visits with our loved ones in nursing homes, an ability to have gatherings that we’ve missed for so long.
“We really encourage everyone, especially our health care workers right now, to embrace the science, the fantastic science that brought us these two highly effective, safe vaccines. Obviously, we believe very strongly in it.”
Dobbs and State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers emphasized throughout Tuesday’s news conference the importance for every Mississippian to participate in slowing the spread of COVID-19 even as the vaccines begin to roll out across the state.
They said there is too much community spread right now, and it could be at least partially controlled by following the common sense advice health officials have been giving for months: wearing a mask in public, social distancing and practicing good hand hygiene are all critical.
The one major thing Mississippians can add during the holiday season is to limit or eliminate gatherings of any size outside of immediate family and others in the household.
“Be aware of silent super spreaders,” Dobbs said. It’s not the people who are obviously sick who will spread the virus, he said. It’s the people who have it and don’t know it.
“Parties should not be happening at all.” he added.
For guidelines on celebrating the holidays safely, go to the MSDH website, where you will also find guidance for religious services during the holidays. The website also provides more information about the COVID-19 vaccines including answers to frequently asked questions.
You can also call the MSDH coronavirus hotline seven days a week from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. for answers to your questions. The number is 877-978-6453.
Keith Phillips contributed to this report.