Mississippi’s top health official criticized the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine within the state’s long-term care facilities Friday, calling the plan made by the federal government and pharmacies contracted to give the shots “faulty” and “frustrating.”
“We gave them too much vaccine too soon,” State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said during a virtual briefing with the Mississippi State Medical Association, adding that the situation is now a “daunting problem” for health officials.
The Department of Health is now having conversations with CVS and Walgreens about whether some of the doses allocated to them need to be pulled back, Dobbs said.
CVS and Walgreens were allocated 47,000 doses of vaccine in December to inoculate long-term care residents, per the federal government. As of Friday, only about 14,000 doses have been administered. Mississippi has about 36,000 residents living in nursing facilities and 25,000 living in other long-term care settings.
That’s compared with 150,786 doses that have been administered statewide, according to the Department of Health. The state is using 19 drive-thru facilities, clinics and hospitals to complete vaccinations for those 65 and older, health care workers and those who are at least 16 and have health conditions that might make them more vulnerable to the virus.
Overall, Dobbs said, the state is doing “remarkably well” at vaccinating people who are not long-term care residents — the state had used 75 percent of its allocation for first doses as of Friday. Still, officials at the drive-thru sites and other facilities offering vaccinations have not been able to come close to keeping up with the demand.
“If we could have given them 4,000 a week like they’re using, then we could have used that other vaccine,” Dobbs said of long-term care facilities.
The state health officer said it’s been a “real challenge” as his team tries to plan for the future.
“We expected them to be done a couple of weeks ago, like maybe last week, with everybody,” Dobbs said.
Officials with CVS and Walgreens have assured the Department of Health that vaccinations will be 95 percent done by the end of January, Dobbs said. Department of Health officials are meeting with representatives from the pharmacies again on Monday.
Dobbs said the delay has been partially due to slow rollout by CVS and Walgreens and also to “sluggish” uptake of the vaccine, especially among staff at long-term care facilities.
The department reported Friday that Mississippi had 2,050 new confirmed cases of the virus as of Thursday evening. The department also reported 45 deaths Friday, 27 of which happened between Jan. 16 and Thursday. The state has reported about 261,000 cases of the virus and 5,713 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.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.