Senate staffer Kendra Hawkins is inoculated with the Moderna vaccine by Mississippi Department of Health Pharmacist Anna Ward at the State Capitol Tuesday. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Gov. Tate Reeves announced on Thursday that eligibility for a COVID-19 vaccine is being expanded to include all Mississippians ages 50 years or older. There are currently over 11,000 open first-dose appointments available on the MSDH website.

The announcement comes one day after Reeves lifted all state-imposed mask mandates and COVID-19 related restrictions on businesses. First responders and employees of K-12 schools, preschools and daycares became eligible for vaccination on Monday. People ages 16 to 49 years old are also eligible if they have a a qualifying chronic health condition that puts them at higher risk from COVID-19.

MAP: Where to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Mississippi

The Mississippi State Department of Health reported on Monday that 407,647 people in Mississippi — about 14% of the state’s population — have received at least their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. About 219,000 people have received both doses since the state began distributing vaccines in December.

January saw the most coronavirus-related deaths in a single month in Mississippi, with 1,240 confirmed. The state also set new single day records for new cases: 3,255 cases on Jan. 7, and 98 deaths on Jan. 12.

Additionally, the number of COVID-19 cases, COVID-related hospital admissions and clinic visits for COVID-19 like illnesses in Mississippi have been trending sharply downward in 2021.

MSDH reported 479 new COVID-19 cases and 21 coronavirus-related deaths on Wednesday. This brings Mississippi to a total of 296,154 coronavirus cases and 6,764 deaths since the pandemic began in March 2020.

READ MORE: Frequently asked questions about COVID vaccines in Mississippi

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Will Stribling covers healthcare and breaking news for Mississippi Today.