With weekly COVID cases increasing slightly in Miss., vaccine hesitancy remains a concern

Recent analysis finds the Magnolia State ranks 45th in percentage of residents fully vaccinated
Updated: Apr. 16, 2021 at 8:50 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - With coronavirus numbers climbing slightly this week, some health experts are concerned about what that could mean. At the same time, hesitancy among Mississippians to take the vaccine seems to be affecting the state’s ability to administer it.

This week, Mississippi’s coronavirus cases showed signs of increases from the norm with the biggest coming Thursday: 410 cases, the highest number in a month, according to an analysis of data from the Mississippi State Department of Health.

Some believe we may be seeing an increase in cases from Easter Sunday services, and suggest another COVID-19 wave could be on the way.

MSDH spokesperson Liz Sharlot said it’s too soon to make any of those claims.

“It would be difficult to attribute these numbers to Easter Sunday. COVID is still present in MS and the rest of the country,” Sharlot said in a statement to WLBT.

Mississippi is not seeing high fluctuations other states are experiencing at this point, Sharlot said.

“We will continue to watch the data, but calling the minimal fluctuations we are experiencing the beginning of a third wave would not be accurate at this time,” Sharlot said. “It is too early to determine whether these fluctuations will become a trend. The best advice regarding COVID is to get vaccinated, wear masks, practice social guidelines and avoid large gatherings.“

Many health experts agree that more data needs to be available to determine whether cases are beginning to trend upward.

“We don’t have enough information to definitively say that we’re headed in a really bad direction. But we know that even over the past couple of weeks, we’ve just been on a kind of a plateau, a low plateau, we got a lot better and are so grateful, that that has occurred,” said Mississippi State Medical Association President Dr. Mark Horne. “But we need to remind ourselves why we got so much better.”

Horne said vaccinations and good mask compliance did wonders for Mississippi’s COVID-19 cases over the last three months.

This week, insurance company QuoteWizard released an analysis ranking the Magnolia State 45th when it comes to the percentage of those fully vaccinated.

Dr. Justin Turner, an internal medicine specialist, said experts and public officials need to be careful when it comes to touting success prematurely.

“Early this year, you know, we were talking about how great we’re doing great we’re doing. And a lot of us were saying, ‘Hey, park the brakes, you know, we really got to take this one day at a time,’” Turner said.

That low percentage, 19.2 percent as of Tuesda, according to the analysis, has been blamed on vaccine hesitancy by state health leaders and Gov. Tate Reeves, who drew controversy when he told national media outlets that rural and Black Mississippians needed to be educated in order for those numbers to improve.

“The hesitancy is definitely a concern. As far as the supply, I feel like that’s better. As far as the resources, we have been intentional in addressing that, because I can tell you that the majority of the patients that I see that represent patients in the minority community, they actually want it,” said Turner, who is Black. “But the reality is, there’s a lot of people that don’t look like me that do not want it. And those individuals make up the majority in Mississippi.”

Turner believes Mississippi’s ranking, and a similar study dismissed by Reeves as “liberal” spin , shows that the state needs to take a hard look at things that could drive that percentage higher, like Medicaid expansion.

“Until we get serious and realize that every Mississippian, regardless of background, can have access to quality health care, we still gonna be ranked 45, 48, 50th,” Turner said.

Part of that seriousness, Horne said, comes from people continuing to follow public health guidance about masking and social distancing.

“It is something to keep an eye on as something that reminds us of the importance of continuing to do the right thing. I think of it like running a race. You know, if you talk to someone who’s a sprinter, and they are doing a 100-yard dash, they run through the tape. If you’re playing football, you should run through the endzone. You don’t slow down as you’re about to get to where you’re trying to go,” Horne said.

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