Motorists are directed into a privacy tent one vehicle at a time to receive the Pfizer vaccine at the Neshoba County Coliseum in Philadelphia on Feb. 2, 2021. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

The number of new COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths in Mississippi has continued the sharp decline seen since their peak in January. This is thanks to the rapid expansion of vaccination efforts across the state, though health officials continue to warn that this progress is threatened by the emergence of new variants. 

Mississippi’s 7-day average for new cases is 235, which represents a more than 90% decrease from the January peak. This decline is higher than the national average, which has decreased by 75% during the same period. COVID-related hospitalizations in Mississippi have also decreased by nearly 86% since their peak.

As COVID-19 numbers have trended downward, the arrival of new variants bodes the possibility of a new wave of infections. On Friday, The White House announced a new plan to dedicate nearly $2 billion from the American Rescue Plan towards strengthening and expanding the tracking of COVID-19 variants across the country. 

“State and local public health departments are on the frontlines of beating back the pandemic, but they need more capacity to detect these variants early on before dangerous outbreaks… This investment will give public health officials the chance to react more quickly to prevent and stop the spread,” Andy Slavitt, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said during a press briefing. 

The B.1.1.7 variant, which originated in the United Kingdom, represents the vast majority of variant infections in Mississippi and the majority of new infections nationally. The variant is estimated to be around 60% more contagious and 67% more deadly than the original version. 

Over the last month, three new variants of COVID-19 have been detected in Mississippi: one that originated in South Africa and two that originated in California. 

Vaccination is still the best guard against the virus in all its forms, officials have said. Though the state passed the 1.5 million shot mark earlier this week, Mississippi currently ranks last in the nation in the share of its population that have received at least one dose. A delayed start in the vaccine rollout, accessibility issues and vaccine hesitancy have all contributed to the state’s comparatively low rate of inoculation. 

Vaccination efforts across the country were slowed on Tuesday after federal health agencies recommended a pause in the use of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine after six recipients developed an extremely rare blood clot. 

The Mississippi State Department of Health instructed vaccine providers to refrain from using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine until more guidance is available from federal health agencies. Out of all the Mississippians who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, less than 5% of them received Johnson & Johnson.

It is unclear how long the halt will last and how it will impact public trust in COVID-19 vaccines. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, appeared on several local TV stations across Mississippi on Wednesday to assuage the concerns of those troubled by the Johnson & Johnson halt. 

In an interview on WLOX, Dr. Fauci encouraged Mississippians to remember that they have a less than one in one million chances of forming the blood clotting in question after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“So if I were not in my position, and I was looking at it from the outside, I would say the bottom line is that those people (federal and state health agencies) are paying a lot of attention to safety,” Fauci said. “So when they say something is safe, you better believe them because they are really paying a lot of attention.”


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Will Stribling covers healthcare and breaking news for Mississippi Today.