The Pfizer-BioNtech covid vaccinations are prepared for injection. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Due to the low demand for COVID-19 vaccines in Mississippi, the state has returned 871,950 of the doses it was allocated to the federal vaccine pool, sent them to other states or rejected the federal allotment.

This startling figure underscores the problem facing health officials and vaccine advocates across the state: getting people to take the shots that are now widely available for anyone 12 and older. 

Mississippi continues to rank last in the nation in the share of its population that has been vaccinated. Less than 30% of Mississippians have been fully vaccinated despite significant gains made in recent months in vaccinating the most vulnerable and making vaccine access more equitable

The issues of vaccine access that existed during the early stages of the vaccine rollout have largely been eliminated over the past few months. The Mississippi State Department of Health will now come directly to the homes of people who want to get vaccinated but don’t have reliable transportation. They’re also offering this option to businesses or other local organizations that want to host vaccination drives. People are simply declining to take the shots and that’s keeping the state’s vaccination rate low. 

Over the past two weeks, only 26,710 Mississippians got their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The 15,073 shots given last week represent a decrease of over 88% from February’s peak. 

Beyond the doses that have been returned to the federal government, just because a dose stays in Mississippi doesn’t mean it will be used. A total of 7,850 doses have been wasted because a vaccination site couldn’t get enough people to get vaccinated before the remainder of an open vial expired. A majority of this dose wastage has occurred in smaller clinics, vitally important to the states vaccination efforts, but also at a higher risk of leaving allocated doses unused. 

Mississippi is also the state furthest behind in reaching President Joe Biden’s goal of getting at least one COVID-19 shot into the arms of 70% of adults by July 4. If trends hold, only 46% of Mississippi adults will have received a shot by then. If vaccination rates don’t improve significantly, the state wouldn’t reach that 70% threshold for well over a year.

The Department of Health reported on Monday that 1,043,030 people in Mississippi — over 35% of the state’s population — have received at least their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. More than 911,00 people have been fully inoculated since the state began distributing vaccines in December.

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Will Stribling covered healthcare and breaking news for Mississippi Today.