What we know so far about COVID-19 vaccines in Mississippi. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, Pool)

Health officials are scrambling to distribute COVID-19 vaccines and inoculate Mississippians according to a priority list that begins with healthcare workers and longterm care facility residents.

The main point that Mississippi’s healthcare officials are dwelling on this week: The rollout of the vaccine will take several months, and how that process looks depends on how many doses the state can receive and when.

We’ve got a light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s still a long tunnel,” said Dr. Paul Byers, state epidemiologist at the Mississippi State Department of Health.

It is still uncertain when the general public may be eligible to receive the vaccine. Officials this week said they are hopeful that every healthcare worker and longterm care facility resident in Mississippi will receive at least the first dose of a vaccine by the end of January.

Once that happens, a next phase of vaccines will be opened up to Mississippians such as older adults, essential workers and those with chronic diseases which raise their risk of serious illness from COVID-19. But the timing of this next phase is still undetermined by health officials.

We have many questions about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout process, and we’re working hard to get them answered. If you have questions you’d like us to try to answer, please email adam@mississippitoday.org. We’ll do our best to get them answered quickly. In the meantime, visit the MSDH’s vaccine page here.

Here’s what we know as of Dec. 31, 2020:

• Mississippi remains in Phase 1A in vaccine distribution. This phase targets healthcare personnel and residents/staff at longterm care facilities. Mississippians currently eligible for the vaccine, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health: “Any healthcare worker, paid or unpaid, in any setting where they may be exposed directly or indirectly to COVID-19 patients or COVID-19 infectious materials. Healthcare workers include nurses, physicians, emergency medical services, technicians, pharmacists, dietary and food staff, environmental services staff and others.”

• State health officials have received and distributed around 120,000 doses so far in Mississippi – about 90% of the doses that Mississippi has been allocated. Those doses have been distributed to Mississippi hospitals and pharmacies partnered with the MSDH. Health officials are working to get the remaining 10% “out the door” to healthcare facilities across the state.

• Of those 120,000 doses in the state, 17,410 Mississippians have been vaccinated with a first dose, according to the health department’s immunization registry. Healthcare workers across the state are being asked to update the immunization registry regularly. MSDH officials noted on Wednesday that the numbers reflected in the registry are delayed and likely underrepresent the actual number of vaccinated Mississippians. 

• On Jan. 3, officials will open 18 vaccination drive-thru locations across the state. That effort is being coordinated by MSDH and University of Mississippi Medical Center. Those clinics will initially target healthcare professionals — first responders, doctors, nurses, etc. More information about these clinics, where they will be located and how you can schedule an appointment can be found here.

• In efforts to ensure that people who sign up for these first vaccine appointments are actually healthcare workers, officials will reference healthcare licenses and certifications. “At a minimum, most of these people have a healthcare facility ID,” officials said on Wednesday. “We’ll be checking all of that.”

• MSDH is working with CVS and Walgreens pharmacies to distribute vaccines to all 204 long-term care facilities in Mississippi. Some LTC facilities have already received doses of the vaccines. Many other facilities have been contacted by the pharmacies, the officials said. “This is going to be a matter of weeks before this series of vaccinations (to long-term care facilities) gets completed,” Byers said.

• Officials are still unsure about who will be included in the next phases of vaccines, and they’re unsure about when those phases will begin. “A lot of it just depends on how many doses we get,” officials said on Wednesday. Experts in early December predicted the next phases could look something like this, but they have not yet been formalized:

  • Phase 1a: Front-line health care workers, including first responders, pharmacists and the national guard (90,000 doses estimated)
  • Phase 1b: long-term and home care residents and staff (55,000 doses)
  • Phase 2: those over the age of 65; essential workers, including workers in: education, public health, dentistry, funeral homes, transportation, postal workers, grocery stores, meat packing; homeless people; people with obesity, heart disease, CPOD, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, asthma; and people incarcerated in prisons and jails (2.7 million)
  • Phase 3: general public (200,000 doses)

• Health officials on Wednesday said that they feel comfortable about the state’s funding to distribute the vaccine. They noted that about 75% of vaccine support funding comes from the federal government, and about 25% of funding will come from the state. “We continue to get that support from the federal government. The Legislature is aware of covering the 25%, and they’ve been working with us closely,” Byers said. The officials said the state’s biggest need is continuing to get vaccine doses allocated to Mississippi.

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Adam Ganucheau, as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief, oversees the newsroom and works with the editorial team to fulfill our mission of producing high-quality journalism in the public interest. Adam has covered politics and state government for Mississippi Today since February 2016. A native of Hazlehurst, Adam has worked as a staff reporter for AL.com, The Birmingham News and The Clarion-Ledger and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Adam earned his bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Mississippi.