We’re devoted to arming you with the information you need during the COVID-19 pandemic, which now includes giving you the opportunity to ask questions and get answers in real-time.

Each Monday, Will Stribling, Mississippi Today’s healthcare reporter, is taking the noon hour to answer your questions about COVID-19 through our text line.

Below is a selection of reader questions asked during yesterday’s AMA that were answered by Will.

Visit our Vaccine Guide for more COVID-19 resources.

Want to join the conversation? Sign up for our COVID-19 text line:

Last updated November 15, 2021

Which vaccine is the safest?

All three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States are safe and effective. You just have to choose which one you’d prefer. You can find plenty of information for comparing them here.

How many children ages 5-12 have died from COVID-19 in Mississippi and in the entire country?

Three children between the ages of 0-4 have died from COVID-19 in Mississippi. Six children between the ages of 5-17 have died.Sorry I couldn’t answer your question precisely. This is just how MSDH reports the data.

What is the upshot of the surges overseas? What does it mean or possibly mean for us?

The vaccination rates and public measures to limit virus spread vary so widely from country to country that it’s difficult to make any sort of domestic predictions based off of that information.

The state’s vaccination rate hasn’t moved much, and the deadline for college and university personnel’s vaccination requirement fulfillment is approaching in early December. I work for one. What impact could the ending of the state of emergency have if more people remain unvaccinated?

You can read all about what the end of the state of emergency means for Mississippi’s COVID-19 response here.

Personally, I’m concerned about whether or not hospitals will be able to efficiently coordinate without the state of emergency if we experience another winter surge of infections. I don’t think we’re going to see anything like we saw in August, but the mass exodus of healthcare workers means that any strain on the healthcare system is going to be more pronounced than it would be if we hadn’t lost so much of that workforce.

Ask Me Anything: November 8, 2021

Where do we go to get our children vaccinated?

You can schedule an appointment through UMMC’s vaccine scheduler and find a county health department site here.

What’s the side effects for children age 6?

You can find information on possible side effects here.

Why should a child take a vaccine when they don’t get sick and don’t die? According to the data, more children die of the seasonal flu than COVID-19.

Children do get sick and do die from COVID-19. It might seem like a small number to you, but that doesn’t matter when it’s your child on a ventilator. Dozens of children have been and are currently hospitalized at Children’s of Mississippi Hospital due to severe complications related to a COVID-19 infection. Some of them will deal with the impacts for the rest of their lives. The benefits of COVID-19 vaccination outweigh the known and potential risks to children.

Ask Me Anything: November 1, 2021

Which should I get first flu or booster, and how long should I wait between?

You can get them in whatever order you want, and you could get them both in the same day if you wanted to. You’d just have to get shots in different arms if that were the case.

Are the number of children under age 18 a part of the state’s residents who are the 46% fully vaccinated?

Yes!

How can we schedule a booster shot if we had the J&J vaccine?

Check with your doctor, a pharmacy, or other vaccination provider about getting a J&J booster dose. You can find one by using this link. You can also get a mRNA booster if you want to. You don’t have to get a J&J booster just because it was your primary vaccination.

Not an antivaxer. Got virtually every vaccination out there. But heard some say that the COVID vaccinations with spike protein can affect immune system over a period of time, so people will be unable to fight off future viruses.

This is blatant misinformation. The vaccines are safe and effective! Here’s how it works, per CDC. The vaccine tells our cells to produce a harmless piece of the spike protein. The spike protein is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19. After the protein piece is made, our cells break down the mRNA and remove it. Next, our cells display the spike-protein piece on their surface. Our immune system recognizes that the protein doesn’t belong there. This triggers our immune system to produce antibodies and activate other immune cells to fight off what it thinks is an infection. This is what your body might do to fight off the infection if you got sick with COVID-19.

Ask Me Anything: October 18, 2021

What’s the real truth about how many people hospitalized in Mississippi are fully vaccinated? Also what are the numbers as pertaining to deaths and being vaccinated?

Per MDSH data, between Sept. 17-Oct. 14, 94% of COVID-19 cases, 87% of hospitalizations and 89% of deaths were among people not vaccinated or only partially vaccinated.

How many different strains of COVID-19 currently exist and what are the names? Additionally, how do you think Mississippi is doing with regards to the spread of it?

Right now, the Delta variant accounts for virtually all COVID-19 cases in MS. It’s stronger and more transmissible than any other variant that has emerged. You can view MSDH data on variants here. I am cautiously optimistic about the downward trend our infection and death counts are on. I do wish more Mississippians would take the safe and effective vaccine.

Should an 83-year-old white female in good health that has gotten both Moderna shots get the booster when available?

Yes! A booster will dramatically increase your antibody levels and give you greater protection against contracting breakthrough infection and the worst outcomes of you were to contract one.

Do you know anything about Mississippi State mental health visitation rights? My mother is in the state hospital and lives in Texas. They are only allowing visitation during the weekday. Prior COVID visitation was everyday. I was able to visit on the weekend. Do you have any state guidelines on MS visitation rights?

I’m sorry that this visitation policy is keeping you from seeing your mother.A patient in MS has the right to receive visitors and make phone calls, subject to the general rules of the treatment facility. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s COVID-19 guidance acknowledges that visitation may be curtailed during the pandemic.

I am 75. I had my Moderna vaccine January and February. Can I get a Moderna booster now?

You cannot get one yet, but will be able to soon. A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted unanimously Thursday in favor of authorizing booster shots of the Moderna vaccine to people 65 and older, those 18 to 64 with risk factors for severe Covid-19, and those whose jobs put them at high risk for serious complications of Covid-19, such as health care workers. The FDA is not bound by the votes of its advisory committees, which it convenes to ask for guidance, but it generally follows their advice.

Ask Me Anything: October 4, 2021

I was wondering what it is the rate of vaccinated that are being hospitalized with Covid? What is the numbers of deaths in MS that are fully vaccinated and cause of death as Covid?

Between Sept 3-30 in MS, 12% of COVID-related hospitalizations and 13% of deaths were among vaccinated people.

What period did your COVID-19 report include for today?

Monday reports from MSDH include the totals for Friday-Sunday.

Is the Pfizer booster shot the same dose as the first or second shot that was given to us? 

Yes, the Pfizer booster is the same as the first and second doses you received. Moderna boosters might end up being half-doses, but we don’t know yet.

Hi. I was exposed last Wednesday. CDC website says since I’m doubly vaccinated that I can be in public but wear a mask. It also says to be tested in 35 days. My doctor doesnt test without symptoms even when exposed unless symptomatic. Does each clinicdoctor set their own guidelines?  

Because of a test shortage, many smaller clinics are limiting who can be tested for COVID-19. Luckily, you can still get a free test at county health department locations.  Find more information here.

If researcher is leaning towards Pfizer vaccine losing effectiveness/dismal antibodies present after 7 or 8 months, will booster vaccines be suggested every 8 months or yearly?  

Yes, it is likely that COVID shots will eventually become annual, like the flu shot.

I live in Jones County.  I do not have any medical insurance.  Where can I get my COVID booster shot?  

You can get your booster at the Jones County Health Department. You can schedule an appointment online at covidvaccine.umc.edu or by phone by calling (877) 978-6453.

I had an exposure five days ago. I tested negative yesterday. I would like to get the booster but am unsure how long I should wait.  

You don’t need to wait if you tested negative!

Mississippi has a vaccinated percentage of 44.  What can we do in Mississippi to increase that percentage?

All you can do as an individual (besides getting vaccinated yourself) is to encourage your friends and family to get vaccinated. It seems small, but it really does help.

 Do I pay for the booster shot?

No, boosters are free.

Ask Me Anything: September 27, 2021

In this AMA, Will answered questions about booster shots, vaccine efficacy, monoclonal antibody treatments and more.

When will Moderna 70 be able to get a booster?

The CDC has not made any recommendations concerning booster shots for recipients of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, but officials say those may come soon. The Moderna vaccine uses similar technology as the Pfizer vaccine, and the company has applied for FDA authorization of booster shots. We will keep you updated as the landscape around booster doses changes.

I was in the phase of the rollout for people not 65 but people with a condition that made them heightened risk for hospitizilations, serious illness not necessarily immunocompromised. It think it was phase 2b on MSDH’s plan. When can we get a booster? Or has CDC, Biden, MSDH decided against extending it to people in this category?

Pfizer recipients under the age of 65 who are at high risk because of underlying medical conditions are eligible for a third dose. You can schedule one through MSDH’s vaccine scheduler at covidvaccine.umc.edu.

If you get the vaccine and then get COVID, do you still have a chance of being in the hospital and on the ventilator?

Yes, but a smaller chance than if you had been unvaccinated. For example, between Aug. 27-Sept. 23, 87% of COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths in Mississippi were among the unvaccinated.

Will, where is the best compiled list if such exists of health facilities statewide that offer Monoclonal Antibodies treatment? Being an 8-year resident of and observer of health conundrums in MS, my assumption and fear is that that you will answer, “There is no such publicly available resource.” Would be thrilled to be proved wrong. Thanks.

Thankfully, you are wrong. You can find a list of all MS facilities providing MAB treatments here.

Hi, Will. Why is it that so many healthcare workers, current and retired, are reluctant to get the COVID vaccine? Do they know something we lay people don’t know?

I don’t have an answer for that, unfortunately. Vaccine hesitancy has many root causes, and workers are not immune to vaccine misinformation. However, the vast majority of healthcare workers in MS have taken the vaccine willingly. The American Medical Association has found that 96% of practicing physicians are vaccinated. I think the better question is why that small percentage of holdouts think they know better than nearly all the doctors in America.

Hi, Will. What is the percentage of MS who remains unvaccinated?

Forty-nine percent of eligible Mississippians (age 12 and up) remain unvaccinated, per CDC data.

If you can get COVID after you have the shot, then why take it?

The vaccine does not completely eliminate the risk of infection, hospitalization or death from COVID-19, but it dramatically reduces that risk. For example, between Aug. 27-Sept.23, 97% of cases and 87% of COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths in Mississippi were among the unvaccinated.

When is a good time to schedule the booster with the flu pneumonia shot? Should they be spaced out with time in between them?

You can take them at the same time. No need to space them out, out get them in any particular oder. if you got them on the same day, you’d just have to get them injected into opposite arms.

Any news on called meeting of the legislature?

No news on a special session yet, but we will keep you updated when/if one is called by the governor.

What are the long term effects 2 years plus of the COVID vaccines?

No one knows that yet. The vaccines haven’t even been available for one year, so there’s no data or efficacy or effects two years out.

What’s the total amount of COVID-19 cases since the reupsurge in MS?

Since July 1, there have been 162,489 COVID-19 infections confirmed in MS. This is 33.5% of the total cases seen in the state since March 2020.

Ask Me Anything: September 13, 2021

In this AMA, Will answered questions about COVID-19 booster shots, the delta variant, testing and more.

Is it true approximately 40 of eligible Mississippians are vaccinated?

Yes! Per CDC data, 40% of Mississippians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 48% of those who are eligible to be vaccinated (12 and up) are fully vaccinated.

Can I take the Moderna booster if my first 2 vaccine shots were Pfizer?

At this time, Pfizer is the only vaccine authorized for booster doses.

What are physicians’ recommendations for taking the COVID-19 vaccine boosters at the same time as the flu and pneumonia vaccines? Should they be administered at different times?

You can get them at the same time. Initially, the CDC recommended spacing out the timing, but that guidance has changed.

How likely is it for a vaccinated person to spread the delta variant of COVID-19?

Fully vaccinated people with symptomatic breakthrough Delta infections can spread the virus to others. However, vaccinated people appear to spread the virus for a shorter time. Both vaccinated and unvaccinated people that are infected with Delta have similar viral loads (the amount of virus in their bodies) but that amount decreases quicker if they’re vaccinated.

So much confusion about knowing the difference between Sinus and DELTA.  Sinus  Headache Sinus pressure drip and runny nose fever.  Any help understanding the difference would be great.

Since some cold/flu symptoms are also COVID symptoms, there’s no way to know which you have unless you get tested. You can schedule a free COVID-19 test through MSDH at covidschedule.umc.edu

How can I encourage my vaccine hesitant friends to get vaccinated?

The best you can do is calmly explain why you made the decision you did and listen to the concerns they have. Encourage them to talk to their physician about the vaccine if they have one.

If a person has severe asthma, will the vaccine help COVID?  

Yes! People with asthma need the protection offered by vaccination even more so than people without underlying health conditions that weaken their immune systems.

So what about this statement from the CDC recommending boosters at 8 months?

Studies have shown a decrease in vaccine efficacy after 8 months. Those findings have not been turned into official recommendations yet, but a booster plan for the general population is expected to be unveiled in the coming weeks.

Will a booster vaccine be available for all who want it or just a few people?

Currently, a third dose is only recommended for moderately to severely immunocompromised patients, and only those who received either of the mRNA vaccines. We’ll keep you updated as more information on boosters is released in the coming weeks.

Ask Me Anything: August 30, 2021

In this AMA, Will answered questions about COVID-19 breakthrough cases, booster shots, testing and more.

When can I get the booster shot?

This story will tell you everything you need to know about booster shots in MS.

Can you get a vaccine with a sinus infection?

Experts are split on this. Most say that if you’re only experiencing mild symptoms from a non-COVID illness, you can go get vaccinated. If you’re experiencing moderate to severe symptoms, it’d be best to consult with your physician first.

What are the best vitamins to take to fight against COVID-19? 

There are no vitamins that will prevent COVID or help you fight off an infection. Getting vaccinated is the safest and most effective way to protect yourself.

How long do you have to wait as a cancer patient to get your Pfizer booster after two vaccines?? About to start chemo 

That’s a question without an easy answer. You would need to discuss this with your physician. Here’s some good information on this issue from the American Cancer Society.

Is this the largest number of cases reported in a single day since the beginning of the pandemic? Or is this the number of cases from over the weekend?

It’s the number of cases from over the weekend. Monday’s numbers are always the cumulative number of infections/deaths from Fri-Sun.

You can keep up with the COVID-19 data trends here.

I was diagnosed with COVID last December and had the Moderna vaccine in February and March.  Does that give me greater immunity against the Delta variant? 

There are multiple lab studies that suggest the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine works well against the Delta variant. It’s not as effective as it was against the original strain of COVID, but still highly effective at preventing a symptomatic infection, even after one dose! Also, combining the natural antibodies produced after an infection with those created through vaccination offers the best possible protection one can have against COVID-19.

I have an autoimmune illness call sarcoidosis. What is the best vaccine to get?

Either of the mRNA vaccines would be your best options. So Pfizer or Moderna, whichever you can get near you.

Why is it necessary for people who have contracted COVID to get vaccinated? I thought they had natural antibodies.  I have been vaccinated and have not gotten COVID. 

A person who recovers from a COVID-19 infection does develop some natural immunity, but those antibody levels are significantly boosted through vaccination. So it just gives a person the best possible defense against a second infection.

And those people have to wait 90 days to get the vaccine? 

The only people who have to wait 90 days to get vaccinated are people who have been infected and received monoclonal antibody treatment.

In reference to the delta variant, how long does the germ stay active in air and or on surfaces after the infected person has left the area?

The virus can still live on infected surfaces for three days. The problem with delta is that the amount of virus in infected people’s bodies is 1000x higher than with the original strain. Those particles don’t live longer, there are just a lot more of them.

How is hurricane response affecting COVID response or vice versa? 

All Mississippi State Department of Health COVID-19 vaccination and testing sites are closed today, and sites in central and south Mississippi will remain closed Tuesday. All MSDH offices, county health departments, and WIC centers are closed today as well.

View our Hurricane Ida coverage here.

Will, have you ever seen even a bit of evidence that any of the SEC universities actively reviewed a consideration of mandatory vaccinations? Many of us at a certain North Mississippi flagship state university have deeply admired Indiana University having done so.

No, I have not. I do not think any MS colleges or universities (excluding UMMC) ever seriously considered mandating the COVID vaccine.

How many total cases are there in MS as of right now?

There have been 435,611 cases confirmed in MS since March 2020.

New reported cases for: November 29 – December 5

The Mississippi State Department of Health updates case totals each Tuesday based on test results reported from the previous week (Tuesday – Monday). We will update case numbers here as soon as they’re available.

52% of total population fully vaccinated

3,379

new cases and 943,402 total cases in Mississippi.

15

new deaths reported and 13,051 total deaths in Mississippi.

Where can folks on Medicaid obtain free COVID tests?

Free COVID-19 testing Monday through Friday is available from Mississippi’s Community Health Centers. Contact a center near you or call 601-981-1817 for more information.

All Mississippi State Department of Health COVID-19 vaccination and testing sites are closed today because of Hurricane Ida though, and sites in central and south Mississippi will remain closed Tuesday. All MSDH offices, county health departments, and WIC centers are closed today as well.

How can you get COVID-19 if you’re fully vaccinated? 

The vaccines are highly effective at preventing a COVID infection, even more so at preventing hospitalization and death among breakthrough cases. No vaccine is 100% effective though, so there will always be those who experience an illness they’ve been vaccinated against.

Ask Me Anything: August 23, 2021

Update: Immunocompromised Mississippians can now receive booster shots.

Can the vaccination later sterilize young people?

Currently, no evidence shows that any vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, cause fertility problems in women or men.

Here’s a link with more info on this.

I had COVID in March just wondering if I would still have antibodies? I got the vaccine.  

Current data tells us that the natural antibodies developed after a COVID infection don’t start to weaken until eight months after the infection. Pairing natural antibodies with vaccination is by far the most robust protection you can have, though, so you did the right thing by getting the vaccine. You will likely need to get a booster shot eight months after receiving your second dose though. More details about what the booster program will look like in Mississippi should be released in the coming weeks.

Are they going to close anything down to stop the COVID?

Gov. Tate Reeves vehemently opposes any shutdown orders, and they’re very unpopular on the local level as well, so you’re unlikely to see any shutdowns here in Mississippi to limit the spread. Mask mandates at the local level are a possibility, but still very slim.

Do you think the FDA approval will have a positive affect on MS vaccinations?  Will we see any vaccine mandates for public schools and colleges?

I hope so! There are a lot of folks who’ve said that they were waiting for FDA approval, so we’ll see if they stay true to that. The vaccination rate in Mississippi has increased significantly each week over the past month, so I’m interested to see if we see an even higher increase than normal over the next few weeks.

Can I get a booster Im 79 years old and had my 2 KD Moderna on February 9 2021  

More details about what the booster program looks like in Mississippi will come out in the coming weeks. We’ll be sure to cover that as more info becomes available. It’s looking like healthcare workers will get the first boosters, and you’d be in the second group of older folks who were vaccinated early this year.

Update: As of Aug. 24, immunocompromised Mississippians can now receive booster shots.

I had the Johnson and Johnson shot. Can I get a booster of another shot?  

More details about what the booster program looks like in Mississippi will come out in the coming weeks. We’ll be sure to cover that as more info becomes available.

Health experts say that boosters are likely to be needed for people who got J&J and that more data should be available in the next several weeks. Whether that will be a Johnson booster, or one of the mRNA vaccines, I don’t know.

Here’s an article that goes into more detail on this issue.

Does the covid vaccine have a form of sulfa in it?  

Information from the manufacturer states that sulphonamide antibiotics are not used in the manufacturing process of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Will the vaccine soon be a requirement or will it stay our choice? Im vaccinated but just curious..

Some businesses, mostly in the healthcare field, are requiring their employees to get vaccinated and some colleges outside Mississippi are requiring it of their students. The U.S. military will move to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for all service members now that the Pfizer vaccine has full approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the Pentagon’s top spokesperson announced today.

There isn’t going to be any kind of public mandate that covers everyone.

What side effects should I expect from my booster shot in November?  

None any different than the side effects (if any) that you experienced when getting the vaccine originally. More info.

Do I need to take a Covid test after I have Covid 19 to return to society?

No, you should be fine to “return to society” after the 10-14 day quarantine period after testing positive for the virus. More info.

I have had the Johnson vaccine. Do I need to get antibody tested and maybe a Booster. I am 70 and has asthma  

Getting your antibody levels tested is a great idea for everyone, especially if you’re older and/or immunocompromised. If your antibody levels are low, you can ask your doctor about getting a booster shot.

Update: As of Aug. 24, immunocompromised Mississippians can now receive booster shots.

How long should a vaccinated person who was exposed to COVID quarantine? And how long should a vaccinated person with mild or no symptoms who tested positive quarantine?  

In both situations, a 14-day quarantine period is recommended. In Mississippi, per an order from State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, infected people are required to quarantine for at least 10 days. Those who fail to comply with the order could face a fine or jail time.

More info.

My husband plans to get the vaccine today. When will he need to get the second dose. What are studies showing that may be the safest. He is 46 and as we know has not had Covid ever.  

He should get his second dose two weeks after receiving the first dose. Two weeks after that, he’ll have developed really robust protection against the virus.

When will boosters be available?  

More information on what the booster program will look like in Mississippi should come out in the coming weeks. We will keep y’all updated as new information becomes available.

Update: As of Aug. 24, immunocompromised Mississippians can now receive booster shots.

Should 86 year get 3rd vaccine b4 8 months?

You can talk to your doctor about testing your antibody levels to see if a booster is needed before they are rolled out for everyone.

I got an email this morning from someone purporting to be an MD. He said that there have been extensive severe side effects with the Moderna vaccine. Are these allegations true?  

That isn’t true at all. COVID-19 vaccines have been subjected to the same rigorous process for evaluating safety and effectiveness as any other vaccine approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. More safety information about the vaccines can be found here.

How long should a vaccinated person who was exposed to COVID quarantine? And how long should a vaccinated person with mild or no symptoms who tested positive quarantine?  

In both situations, a 14-day quarantine period is recommended. In Mississippi, per an order from State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, infected people are required to quarantine for at least 10 days. Those who fail to comply with the order could face a fine or jail time.

More info.

If you have been vaccinated and get the virus can you get it again for the second time?  

Yes, it is possible, but exceedingly rare.

Which vaccine would you recommend for someone in there early 30s?  

Either of the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) offer the best protection. Pfizer was granted full FDA approval today if that would factor into your decision. That’s the one I got.


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Will Stribling covers healthcare and breaking news for Mississippi Today.