Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state’s health officer, cautioned Mississippians that receiving COVID-19 vaccines will “take a little bit of time.”
“It’s unpredictable and limited,” Dobbs said of the vaccine supply in a Jan. 22 video interview with LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. “We have a sense that we will probably get a steady trickle of vaccine. It’s probably like .1% of the population every week right now at the current pace.
“We just found out yesterday what we’ll get for next week,” Dobbs continued. “All these clinics we have scheduled, we schedule them based on anticipated inventory. But we never know for sure.”
As of Jan. 26, at least 175,417 Mississippians – about 6% of the state’s population – have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health’s database. On the same day, 18,012 Mississippians had received the second dose. Officials have said more Mississippians have likely received the vaccine than is reflected in the database because of reporting lags.
The state’s number of vaccines administered has increased every week since the first vaccine shipments arrived in Mississippi in mid-December. Last week, 62,000 vaccine doses were administered.
Many Mississippians have expressed frustration in recent weeks with slow vaccine rollout. Some have reported having to drive more than three hours to receive a vaccine in one of the state’s drive-thru sites. Others say they are eligible to receive the vaccine but cannot secure an appointment quickly enough before they are booked.
But the state’s health officials say their hands are largely tied as they await vaccine shipments from the federal government.
“It’s not that anybody isn’t doing their part, it’s just that we don’t know what’s coming from week to week until very long into it. It’s hard to plan,” Woodward said.
The federal government – the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – oversees a centralized system to order, distribute and track COVID-19 vaccines. All vaccines are ordered through the CDC.
The Mississippi State Department of Health, which Dobbs oversees, works directly with the CDC to manage the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution, sending vaccine to private providers and hospitals throughout the state. The CDC typically gives less than a week’s notice when informing the state how many doses they’ll receive for the next week.
“It’s super challenging for the clinics,” Dobbs said. “I’ve spent hours on the phone with frustrated folks because they need to say, ‘I want to schedule these, how much can I get?’ That’s a perfectly legitimate question, and I understand their frustration better than anyone… I think it’s going to get better going forward.”
Dobbs said that infighting between the HHS and the CDC has affected vaccine rollout.
“I really hope as we go forward that the federal government can cooperate internally,” Dobbs said. “We’ve seen constant struggle between HHS and CDC. It’s like having two parents bickering. We need unity, stability, a good strategic vision. That’s the foundational thing.”
Dobbs has highlighted racial and geographic disparities in vaccine rollout in Mississippi. As of Jan. 26, just 16% of vaccines administered in Mississippi were given to Black Mississippians, who make up 38% of the state’s population.
“Health equity and (the racial disparities) are at the top of our list as we’re going through our next phases of this vaccine plan,” Dobbs said. “We have to remember health equity.”