The state’s top health chief mused in a press conference last week that May and June, with minimal COVID activity, “seemed like a vacation.”

State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs is hopeful that increasing vaccination interest will help Mississippi get back to those better days.

“We’ve been through more tragedy in Mississippi than we had to,” he said. “Sadly, Mississippi is now number two in the country in per capita mortality. This is real stuff that is going on. Not only have we had way too many deaths, but we can prevent more in the future, and that’s where we need to go.”

Some new research data from Israel is also giving a bit of hope.

“It looks like natural infection does seem to be really helpful in preventing future infection,” he said. “If we combine that with folks who are immunized, that will probably have real benefits at reaching more of a population threshold for getting back to steady-state transmission.”

The target number is about 85 percent of the population to have immunity in order to have a manageable level of transmission.

But Dobbs does not want those who have been infected to rely only on natural immunity. Those who have had COVID-19 should “go ahead and get vaccinated,” he said, “because we know it will greatly augment your immunity, and it decreases the risk of reinfection by half. So there are great benefits to getting vaccinated, even if you’ve had COVID before.”

Eighty-seven percent of recent deaths are among the unvaccinated, and the number of documented August deaths was approaching 1,000.

“Almost all those deaths were preventable,” said Dobbs. “Most of the deaths that are going to happen over the next month are and would be preventable.”

Now that the Pfizer vaccine has full FDA approval, “We encourage folks not to wait on vaccine for additional research,” said State Epidemiologist Paul Byers. “Now is the time.”

In Mississippi, about 1.43 million people have received at least one dose, and about 1.17 million are fully vaccinated. Another 26,000 have received a third shot of Pfizer or Moderna – a booster that is now available at the county health departments for those who meet the immunocompromised requirements.

Locally, 35 percent in Alcorn County have received at least one dose with 28 percent fully vaccinated. Prentiss County has reached 40 percent with at least one dose; Tippah County is at 38 percent, and Tishomingo County is at 35 percent. Fully vaccinated are 33 percent in Prentiss County, 31 percent in Tippah County and 29 percent in Tishomingo County.

Staff Writer

Jebb Johnston is a 1991 Alcorn Central High School graduate and a 1995 Ole Miss journalism graduate. His primary beats are city and county government.

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