House of Representative member Bryant Clark is inoculated with the Moderna vaccine by Mississippi Department of Health Pharmacist Anna Ward at the state Capitol. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

All Mississippians will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine starting on March 16, Gov. Tate Reeves announced on Monday.

Mississippi is the second state to make immunization against COVID-19 available to the maximum number of residents. Last week, President Joseph R. Biden directed all U.S. states and territories to make all adults eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine no later than May 1st.

As vaccines become increasingly available and as new COVID-19 cases in Mississippi have declined in 2021, some say there is room for optimism. Reeves’ move to universally open vaccine eligibility is the latest move in his efforts aimed to return the state to normalcy, which started with the removal of all state-imposed mask mandates and most COVID-related restrictions on business operations.

In Mississippi, 582,217 people — nearly 20% of the state’s population — have received at least their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. More than 323,000 people have been fully inoculated since the state began distributing vaccines in December. 

The number of COVID-19 cases, deaths, and COVID-related hospital admissions in Mississippi have been trending sharply downward since the January spike. The caseload for the first week of March was more than 83% lower than the January peak, and nearly 75% lower for hospitalizations.

The Mississippi State Department of Health reported 101 new COVID-19 cases and 2 coronavirus-related deaths on Monday. This brings Mississippi to a total of 300,881 coronavirus cases and 6,903 deaths since the pandemic began in March 2020.

READ MORE: Frequently asked questions about COVID vaccines in Mississippi

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

Will Stribling covers healthcare and breaking news for Mississippi Today.