State health officials outline efforts to vaccinate minority communities

State health officials outline efforts to vaccinate minority communities
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The state will have an additional 37,000 first-dose vaccines to give to patients beginning next week, according to officials with the Mississippi State Department of Health.

Officials with the department gave an update on COVID-19 vaccination availability on Thursday.

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said the state would receive an additional 37,000 first-dose vaccines next week. Of those, 30,000 would go to the state’s 19 drive-through centers. The remaining doses would go to health partners elsewhere in the state.

Meanwhile, another 12,000 second doses are expected in Mississippi in February. “If you’re eligible for the second dose in the month of February and don’t have an appointment, please go on and schedule (one) now, so you can get that dose,” Dobbs said.

While touting successes, Dobbs said Mississippi still has some challenges and is looking to expand the number of vaccines going to rural areas and to minority communities.

On Thursday, MSDH had reported that 138,676 people had been vaccinated. However, only 15 percent of those vaccinated had been African Americans. Meanwhile, Blacks make up nearly 40 percent of the state’s total population.

In all, about 1.3 million people in the state are currently eligible to get the vaccine.

That number includes individuals 65 and older and those 16 to 64 years of age who have an underlying condition, said State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers. Healthcare personnel, as well as employees and residents at long-term care facilities and nursing homes, are also eligible.

“They’re pretty broad criteria. If you have a BMI (body-mass index) over 30 you qualify,” Dobbs said. “If you’re a smoker, you qualify.”

Dobbs outlined how the state is working to address that disparity, which he said stems from two issues: trust and access.

He said MSDH is addressing the trust issue by enlisting the help of leaders in the African American community.

“What we’ve seen ... is that after people see their friends and colleagues and leaders, especially leaders in the Black community and (have) Black physicians show faith in the vaccine (that) continues to help,” he said.

Dobbs and other leaders recently met with leaders from the Historically Black Colleges and Universities as part of that effort. Dobbs said he was expected to meet with several Black pastors on Thursday as well.

“Access is another issue. Black people want to get (the vaccine) from Black doctors,” he said. “That is why the community health centers have been so helpful. They service not only people of color but others who may have other access issues, who may not be able to get on a computer and that sort of thing.”

Another factor that might help with that disparity is the opening of the Hinds County drive-through vaccination center.

That center opened at 9 a.m. on Thursday at Smith-Wills Stadium.

“About an hour and a half after getting the operation started, the line was moving to the system standard of about a 30-minute encounter from the time you say, ‘hi’ to us at a greeter station to the time you say, ‘bye’ after your 15-minute observation,” said Jim Craig, senior deputy and director of MSDH’s Office of Health Protection.

MSDH is hoping to open another mass vaccination site at the Pemberton Mall in Vicksburg next week.

Individuals do not have to show identification or proof of underlying condition to receive a vaccine. However, to be served at one of the state’s drive-through sites must have an appointment.

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