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Mississippi opens new drive-thru vaccination site in Jackson

January 21, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this Dec. 23, 2020, file photo, members of the Mississippi Air and Army National Guard Guard receive the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in Flowood, Miss. The coronavirus vaccines have been rolled out unevenly across the U.S., but some states in the Deep South have had particularly dismal inoculation rates. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 23, 2020, file photo, members of the Mississippi Air and Army National Guard Guard receive the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in Flowood, Miss. The coronavirus vaccines have been rolled out unevenly across the U.S., but some states in the Deep South have had particularly dismal inoculation rates. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi has opened its first drive-thru site for coronavirus vaccinations in the capital city, a move that officials said they hoped would make shots more accessible to African Americans, who have received the vaccine in much smaller numbers than whites.

The state’s 19th drive-thru site opened Thursday at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson, said Jim Craig, senior deputy and director of health protection at the state Department of Health.

“It was welcome to see a lot of Mississippians who had appointments coming in to get their shots,” Craig said during a Department of Health briefing.

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The department has operated 18 drive-thru vaccination sites in different regions of the state for three weeks. Shots are available for health care workers, people 65 and over and those who are at least 16 and have health conditions that might make them more vulnerable to the virus. Vaccinations are also continuing at long-term care facilities through a program run by CVS, Walgreens and the federal government.

The state previously allocated small numbers of doses to some private clinics and community health centers in the Jackson area. Until Thursday, however, there was no vaccination site in Jackson or in the rest of Hinds County, the state’s most populous, and also majority Black. Residents reported traveling upwards of an hour for vaccinations because of an influx of demand at the sites nearest to the capital.

Only 15% of the vaccinations administered so far in Mississippi have been to Black residents, compared to around 70% of vaccinations for white residents, according to the Health Department. Blacks represent 38% of the population.

A drive-thru site at Trustmark Park in the city of Pearl in nearby Rankin County was originally opened to serve both counties. Craig said the Health Department looked to open drive-thru clinics in areas that already had state drive-thru testing sites. However, officials realized a drive-thru site in Hinds County was necessary to meet the demand. The Smith-Wills Stadium site will be used for vaccinations only.

Craig said the state is looking at adding more vaccination sites in the coming weeks.

“We would like to increase geography and we’re going to work with some partners to try to help do that,” Craig said. “But with the limited doses that are available in our state, there’s really just no way to have vaccine available everywhere in the state at the same time.”

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Mississippi is receiving approximately 37,000 doses a week from the federal government, the Health Department said.

The department reported Thursday that Mississippi had 2,290 new confirmed cases of the virus as of Wednesday evening. The department also reported 30 deaths Thursday, 28 of which happened between Jan. 8 and Wednesday. The state has reported nearly 259,117 cases of the virus and 5,668 related deaths since the start of the pandemic.

People eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine can try to make an appointment at COVIDvaccine.umc.edu or by calling the COVID-19 call center at 1-877-978-6453.

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

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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.