The Pfizer vaccine is administered at the Neshoba County Coliseum in Philadelphia. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

The long-awaited vaccine for COVID-19 — and the many questions about its availability, delivery and safety — is the story of 2021.

As a journalist who has covered the pandemic for months, I felt it was appropriate to lend a first-person perspective to how this process is working in Mississippi. After officials opened vaccine eligibility to any Mississippian with certain pre-existing conditions, I received a first dose of the vaccine on Jan. 26.

Here’s my experience.

Scheduling the vaccine appointment

This was by far the most difficult step of the entire process. I tried for more than two weeks to schedule an appointment, becoming frustrated with technical glitches in early January and testing my computer savviness later in the month.

My priority was getting a vaccine appointment for my 84-year-old grandmother. But I also knew I qualified because I have one of several pre-existing conditions that qualifies any Mississippian for a vaccine.

I, like many thousands of Mississippians, rushed to the Mississippi State Department of Health vaccine scheduler website when the state received its first large batch of vaccines in early January. I couldn’t get through the website because so many Mississippians logged on at the same time that the site crashed.

A few days later, I tried again when officials announced more appointments were available. The appointments had been booked up by the time I got there, but the technical glitches had been worked out.

On Jan. 18, Reeves announced more appointments were available. (Tip: I would suggest turning on Twitter notifications for Gov. Tate Reeves — he has been announcing on Twitter when new appointments are opened on the MSDH website.) I again rushed to the now surge-tested website. 

Before you can actually book the appointment, the MSDH website asks several questions. Those questions include:

  • Are you a healthcare worker/personnel?
  • Are you 65 years of age or older?
  • Are you between 18-64 years of age with the specifically listed underlying medical conditions?
  • Do you have a history of severe allergic reactions?
  • Have you received any other vaccine within the past two weeks?
  • Are you pregnant, breastfeeding, or immunocompromised?
  • Have you recently been exposed to a person with COVID-19 within the last 14 days, or are you currently under quarantine for exposure?
  • Have you received monoclonal or antibody therapy for COVID-19 in the previous 90 days?
  • Have you recently or previously tested positive for COVID-19?
  • Is this your first or second dose?

After answering those questions, I was able to schedule a vaccine appointment for my grandmother in Madison County and an appointment for myself in DeSoto County. 

Getting the vaccine

On Jan. 26, I anxiously headed to the designated clinic in Hernando a little earlier than my scheduled time. I was thankful I went early after being informed they’d moved the drive-thru vaccination site to The Landers Center in Southaven for extra space. That easy-to-navigate location change is the most dramatic problem I’ve heard of anyone having in Mississippi.

When I arrived at the proper location, a Mississippi National Guard member asked me to fill out a form asking the same questions I’d had to answer to book the appointment. 

Right on time, I was able to pull my car under a tent, where another National Guard member introduced himself and gave me the shot. I turned away so I didn’t have to see the needle go into my arm. It ended up hurting less than any time I’ve had blood drawn. 

The entire paperwork and inoculation process took less than 10 minutes.

The guardsman who administered the shot said I’d need to park close by and gave me a sticky note with the time I’d be able to leave the parking lot on it. They keep you around for 15 minutes after receiving the shot to make sure you don’t have any adverse reactions to it. I was asked to honk your horn if you need help and to keep your vehicle unlocked just in case.

Feeling great, I left when the 15 minutes was up. It was truly the easiest, most stress-free medical appointment of my life.

The after-effects and next steps 

For several days after I received my first dose, the spot where I’d been injected was sore, but only if I pressed on it. The level of soreness varies person to person. I didn’t experience any of the fever or fatigue that some have reported after being inoculated.

On Feb. 25, I’ll get my second dose of the vaccine. When I got my first dose, I was told I had to wait until two weeks before my second dose was due to book that second appointment. But about a week ago, the MSDH announced Mississippians can book their second dose appointment the day they receive the first dose.

In a few weeks, I’ll do the entire process over again and receive my second dose. And a few weeks after that, I’ll be able to hug my grandmother for the first time since March 2020 without feeling fear or guilt. I can’t put into words how grateful I am for that.

If you had told me a few months ago that I’d be inoculated against COVID-19 by the end of February, I wouldn’t have believed you. The difficulties of getting an appointment will continue into the coming months, but I’m glad that supply chain issues are the biggest hurdle. The state’s top health officials and the many people working MSDH’s drive-thru vaccination sites should be commended for their dedication to getting shots in people’s arms as quickly as the state can distribute them.

READ MORE: Frequently asked questions about COVID-19 vaccines in Mississippi


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Will Stribling covers healthcare and breaking news for Mississippi Today.