HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - Vaccination efforts continue across the state, but the demand is declining.
During just the month of April, The Mississippi State Department of Health reported vaccination rates dropped 25%. In a press conference, state health officials say that could have something to do with the discussion about and temporary pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Mississippi cleared use for that vaccine on Wednesday following recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.
At the Forrest County vaccination site in Hattiesburg, Lt. Deitrich Flanagan, OIC of the operation, says fewer cars are coming through every day.
“We have vacancies,” Flanagan said. “The numbers fluctuate, but it has been a decline for the last few weeks. We went from many a thousand to a third of that a day.”
State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs says he knew the demand would drop after the high-risk population got their shots.
“If you look at the percentage of people over 65 who have been vaccinated, we’re really quite in the middle of the pack and we’re doing quite well,” Dobbs said. “That’s going to be where our biggest impact is. We knew that we were going to have trouble getting younger folks immunized.”
Dobbs says the goal is to now educate young, healthy people to get the shot as a preventative measure. He referred to Mississippi as a “sick state” where people seek medical attention when needed, but don’t seek prevention when still healthy.
“Especially now that we are seeing pretty modest numbers of COVID and very few deaths, the urgency is not there, but the COVID pandemic is not over,” Dobbs said. “We have variants coming. We have a good number of people that are not immune, so we don’t need to give up the fight.”
Health experts estimate about 70% of the population needs to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers says 29% of Mississippi’s total population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 24% is now fully vaccinated.
In Forrest County, Flanagan says the site is ready.
“Most of the clients that come get shots now are second doses,” Flanagan said. “We’re here. Please, I encourage everyone to come get vaccinated. People have died during this pandemic, and if it’s just a needle shot that could prevent it or slow down the number of deaths, why not do it?”
At the beginning of April, the state averaged about 130,000 shots a day. Last week, the health department reported only an average of 30,000 shots per day statewide.
Dobbs makes it clear availability is not an issue and he asks that people talk to their care providers about concerns and get their shot as soon as they can.