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Health workers prioritized as vaccine arrives in Mississippi

December 14, 2020 GMT
State health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs explains how a person might react to a COVID-19 vaccination, right, during Gov. Tate Reeves' covid news briefing, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020 in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
State health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs explains how a person might react to a COVID-19 vaccination, right, during Gov. Tate Reeves' covid news briefing, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020 in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi’s first shipment of coronavirus vaccine arrived Monday, doses that will be administered to the state’s health care professionals working on the frontlines of the pandemic.

Mississippi received an initial batch of 25,000 doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech, which are already being distributed to hospitals, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said during a virtual briefing with reporters.

The state health officer said the vaccine came at a vital time for Mississippi, as coronavirus hospitalizations are reaching record highs.

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“We can’t afford to have three nurses in an ICU out of commission for two weeks,” Dobbs said. “Not only for their health, but also for the health and the health care requirements that Mississippians are going to have.”

Stress on the state’s health care system and workforce has been a major concern in recent weeks. Hospitalizations are up from 946 on Nov. 23 to 1,188 on Dec. 13.

Slowing outbreaks at long-term care facilities is also a priority. There are 213 current outbreaks in Mississippi long-term care facilities, according to officials. Dobbs said there should be enough doses to begin immunizing people in long-term care settings this week.

“We are actually looking at going ahead and pulling the trigger on long-term care distribution today, and starting the process,” Dobbs said. “The vaccines won’t be in arms immediately, but we have gotten information from CDC partners that we should have enough vaccine to kick it off.”

Officials say more of the Pfizer vaccine will arrive each week. Later this week, the FDA will decide whether to greenlight a second rigorously studied COVID-19 vaccine, made by Moderna Inc.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center was one hospital in Mississippi that received an allotment Monday. Hospital spokesperson Marc Rolph said the doses were transferred to on-campus ultra-cold freezers for storage. UMMC received 780 vials, each containing five doses of the vaccine for a total of 3,900 doses of the vaccine.

Packed in dry ice to stay at ultra-frozen temperatures, Mississippi’s shipment was part of 3 million doses being shipped this week throughout the country.

The FDA, considered the world’s strictest medical regulator, said the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine appears safe and strongly protective.

In winning approval for widespread emergency use, the vaccine was cleared before a final study in nearly 44,000 people is complete. That research is continuing to try to answer additional questions.

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Dobbs said he wanted to be the first to receive the vaccine as a show of confidence in the shot. Dobbs, State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers and three other health officials received the immunization on screen in a live video with reporters.

“Felt like a butterfly,” Dobbs joked after receiving his first shot.

In a tweet immediately after receiving the shot, Dobbs said he was “proud and privileged” to receive Mississippi’s first coronavirus vaccine.

Dobbs said the vaccine is not a reason to relax precautionary measures around the virus — people should be more stringent than ever about social distancing, mask-wearing and following other safety regulations. He said the vaccinations will probably not have a major impact on new cases and hospitalizations over the next couple of weeks because so few people are being vaccinated.

“I’m just going to say it straight up. It’s ugly right now and it’s about to get a whole lot uglier,” he said.

The general public may not get the vaccine until the spring or summer of next year. The Department of Health said it plans to launch a campaign to help educate the public about the vaccine.

Dobbs will update the public on how he is feeling in the days after receiving the vaccine.

“Although there may be some mild side effects the next day, it is not only going to be better for us personally, but it’s going to be better for our families and it’s going to be better for our communities,” he said.

The state Health Department reported Monday that Mississippi had 1,648 new confirmed cases of the highly contagious virus as of Sunday evening. The department also reported five new deaths Monday, with all of them happening on Saturday and Sunday. The state has reported nearly 181,100 cases of the virus and 4,204 deaths from it since the start of the pandemic.

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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.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.