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Mississippi COVID-19 vaccinations increase as virus surges

August 3, 2021 GMT
Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center nurse Maggie Bass, right, gives Eric Wilson, 20, a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at an open vaccination site sponsored by the university and the medical center in the Rose E. McCoy Auditorium at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021. Wilson recently lost his father to COVID-19. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
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Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center nurse Maggie Bass, right, gives Eric Wilson, 20, a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at an open vaccination site sponsored by the university and the medical center in the Rose E. McCoy Auditorium at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021. Wilson recently lost his father to COVID-19. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
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Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center nurse Maggie Bass, right, gives Eric Wilson, 20, a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at an open vaccination site sponsored by the university and the medical center in the Rose E. McCoy Auditorium at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021. Wilson recently lost his father to COVID-19. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Albert Wilson Sr. was unsure whether to trust the COVID-19 vaccine when it came out. He told his family he wanted to wait a few months to see how it affected other people before making a decision about himself.

That was before the 58-year-old maintenance technician from Utica was hospitalized with the virus in June. During his two weeks at St. Dominic’s in Jackson — the last weeks of his life — he was begging his wife and four children to get it.

“He told us to come get the vaccine before he died,” said Eric Wilson, Albert’s 20-year-old son. “He said if he ever made it out, he was going to get that vaccine. He said he wished he would have.”

Eric Wilson, a student at Jackson State University, was one of dozens of people lining up to get the COVID-19 vaccine at the historically Black university Tuesday. He said he was nervous at first, but he had to do it for his dad.

“I had to — I promised I would,” he said, sitting in the auditorium stands afterward with a Band-Aid on his arm.

The number of people receiving doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in Mississippi, one of the country’s least vaccinated states, is increasing slightly as infections surge in the state.

Around 53,000 people received either a first or second dose of the coronavirus vaccine the week of July 25 to 31, accordingto numbers released Tuesday by the Mississippi State Department of Health. That’s after the state reported hitting a low of about 20,000 vaccinations for the week of July 4 to July 10.

The last time vaccination rates were so high was between April 25 and May 1, when 55,638 people were inoculated.

Around 1.2 million people in the state of around 3 million have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

“We need (tilde)1 million more immune Mississippians to reach population immunity,” State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs tweeted Tuesday. “Delta is deadly.”

Mississippi still lags far behind other states for COVID-19 vaccinations, with around 35% of the population fully vaccinated. In Vermont, more than 67% of the population is fully vaccinated.

The vaccination lag is happening as all of the state’s major hospitals say they are once again at capacity with COVID-19 patients. Mississippi’s department of health reported Tuesday that there were more than 1,000 patients hospitalized with coronavirus in the state, compared with 228 on July 11. Officials reported more than 1,500 new virus cases.

The surge has created a newfound sense of urgency to get the shot for many who may have been previously hesitant.

Daniel Magee, 53, said his schedule working nights in Jackson making seating for Nissan cars made it difficult for him to make time for an appointment for a shot. But with the delta variant spreading, he said he doesn’t want to take chances.

“It’s spreading like wildfire. If you don’t get vaccinated, it’s like there’s no hope,” he said. “Getting vaccinated, it gives you a better chance.”

Paula Nelson, who works at Jackson State in the Division of Finance and Administration, said she was reluctant for a long time because she worried the shots were developed too quickly.

“When the numbers began to grow, my mindset began to change,” she said.

Nelson said she lost some people close to her to the virus before the vaccine was available. She said she wants to take the opportunity to do what she can to protect herself and others, especially her eight grandkids and five children.

“My grandma would always say, ‘God gave you five senses, but he gave you common sense,’” she said. “Considering that I have so much to live for, I have a responsibility as a citizen.”

Jackson State spokesperson L.A. Warren said there has been an increase of interest for the school to do weekly inoculations in recent weeks, especially among young people.

Kimberly Mcquarter brought her 13-year-old daughter Kayleigh Smith to get her first shot of the vaccine Tuesday. Smith is starting ninth grade in Clinton next week, and she’s worried about the virus being spread at school.

“When you see there’s kids actually being hospitalized, it makes you want to do everything you can to prevent that from happening to your family,” she said.

Mcquarter got her shot in March. Her 9-year-old son Kayden was with the family at Jackson State Tuesday. She said she’d let him get the shot without question if it’s approved for younger children.

JJ Weeks, a 19-year-old wide receiver on Jackson State’s football team, said he didn’t have time to get the shot over the summer while training and taking care of family in Texas. Now that he’s back at school, unvaccinated players are required to wear masks and take multiple COVID tests a week. Vaccinated players have much less strict guidelines.

He said most players are choosing to get the shot for one major reason: “More freedom,” he said. “That’s what really motivated me.”

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Leah Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.