JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - As daily coronavirus cases surge over 1,000 for the fourth time this week, state health officials say a vaccine for the highly contagious virus could be available to a portion of the state’s residents -- including health care workers -- before the end of the year.
Liz Sharlot, communications director for the Mississippi State Department of Health, revealed that the Magnolia State would receive about 183,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine currently undergoing phase three clinical trials during a question-and-answer session Thursday.
“This particular vaccine that we’re talking about, more than 30,000 people have been given a couple of doses of it, and then they watch the safety profile, and then watch the effectiveness. And so far, the information that we’re getting is encouraging,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers.
Byers said as long as the safety profile looks good, the vaccine will likely be released under an emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, a method used to allow medication or -- in this case, a vaccine -- to be utilized quickly.
Data from Pfizer’s phase three trial indicates an efficacy rate of 90 percent, meaning 10 percent of those in the trial developed coronavirus symptoms after taking the vaccine.
Once Mississippi receives the initial round of doses, it would be reserved for health care workers, first responders and Mississippians considered at high risk.
“The purpose behind that, in vaccinating those health care workers first, is to make sure that we get them protected,” State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said. “Those are the individuals who are taking care of the COVID-19 patients in the hospital or clinical setting.”
The vaccine will only be available for those 18 and older at this point, Dobbs said.
Healthy Mississippians wouldn’t likely get access to the vaccine for several months, likely spring or summer of 2021.
“It also depends on how many vaccines are available because we have several in the pipeline,” Dobbs said. “We have two there that are really about ready, Pfizer and Moderna. We also have AstraZeneca and the Janssen version that may be right behind them."
The hour-long Facebook Live session with Dobbs and Byers also covered concerns from the public about the state’s strained health care system, with most hospitals in the state reporting no intensive-care beds.
“I had a hospital call me yesterday because they couldn’t send the patient anywhere, and they were trying to send them to Pensacola because they couldn’t get a bed in Mississippi or Mobile or Birmingham,” Dobbs said. “I mean, it’s really tight. So please be careful. Be careful, not only because we don’t want to spread coronavirus and overload the system. But be careful because there’s nowhere for you to go.”
Dobbs reiterated that the same three strategies they’ve maintained from the beginning -- wearing masks, socially distancing, washing hands -- can help reduce Mississippi’s coronavirus cases, but so far, many haven’t been willing to do that.
“We can’t keep doing those big gatherings and then be perpetually surprised at where the cases are coming from,” Byers said. "Please don’t go to Black Friday. Don’t go to those big gatherings the day after Thanksgiving. That’s going to be a disaster.