State Epidemiologist Paul Byers has heard all the excuses for skipping the COVID-19 vaccine and isn’t impressed with any of them.

“We have the solution right in front of us, but continuously we’re getting pushback for reasons about why to not get vaccinated, and there really is no reason at this point,” he said during a recent talk with the Mississippi State Medical Association. “We can start to move more safely and get back to normalcy more quickly if we will just get onboard with the vaccination. It is a source of frustration for me that we’re not able to achieve this last little bit because of the ‘reasons’ for not getting vaccinated.”

As for those who have had COVID-19, the doctor said they have little chance of becoming reinfected within 90 days afterward, but the shot is needed after the waiting period ends in order to have a stronger immune response.

“We don’t know how long that protection and that immunity is going to last after infection, and we don’t know how complete that protection will be,” said Byers. “But we do know with the vaccines.”

Interest in antibody testing for COVID is also a source of frustration.

“Somehow this idea has gotten out there that the antibody test will tell you whether you do or don’t need to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Mark Horne, president of the MSMA.

The doctors are concerned that the antibody tests are not standardized, and the FDA recently put out an alert reminding physicians that there is no FDA-approved antibody test to establish immunity.

“There is a role for antibody testing, but it’s not to determine whether to be vaccinated or not,” said Dan Edney, the chief medical officer and regional health officer for the Central Public Health Region.

Byers said antibody testing may play a role at some point in determining an individual’s degree of immunity, but “I just don’t think we’re at that point right now.”

He said the risks associated with COVID-19 remain very real, with deaths continuing to be reported daily.

“We had two people in our ICU under 50 on ventilators this past weekend when I was working – both unvaccinated, otherwise pretty healthy people,” said Horne. “And it’s just totally unnecessary.”

What about travel?

Byers said he would not hesitate to travel by airplane but would practice masking in the terminal and on the airplane. He also recommends masking in any kind of public transportation setting, whether vaccinated or not.

“Outside, I feel pretty comfortable. In most settings outside, I am not wearing a mask,” he said. “If I’m going into a store, generally I’m wearing my mask.”

He strongly recommends those who are not vaccinated to continue masking.

Edney, who is 59, continues to take precautions, including masking.

“I wear a mask. I wash my hands. I socially distance,” he said. “We go to a restaurant, we eat outside. If I’m around people I don’t know, I have a mask on. And that’s not paranoia – I think that’s just common sense, because the pandemic is not over. It’s not political. The fact that I wear a mask doesn’t mean I’m afraid. It just means I understand what’s going on around me, and I choose to protect myself and to protect others.”

Local statistics

The Mississippi State Department of Health reported one additional Alcorn County during the past week, bringing the pandemic total to 72.

Residents fully vaccinated in Alcorn County number 23 percent, and 26 percent have received at least one dose. Sixty-four of Mississippi’s 82 counties have a higher percentage of fully vaccinated residents than does Alcorn County.

Among neighboring counties, Tishomingo has 25 percent fully vaccinated; Prentiss, 27 percent; Tippah, 24 percent; McNairy, 30 percent; Hardin, 27 percent; and Hardeman, 27 percent.

• Alcorn County had 17 cases via suspected community transmission for the week of May 16 to 22, rising from 9 the prior week. The county’s positive rate, at 3.1 percent for the period of May 5 to May 18, was down from 4.8 percent for the period of April 28 to May 11.

• Tishomingo County ranked eighth on the high-incidence counties tabulation for the period of May 11 to 24 with 26 cases. The county had 12 cases via suspected community transmission for May 16 to 22 and 11 cases the prior week. The positive rate, at 6.6 percent, rose from 3.2 percent.

• Prentiss County had four cases for May 16 to 22, down from six the prior week. The positive rate, at 1.4 percent, is down from 4.5 percent.

• Tippah County had three cases for May 16 to 22, down from 10 the prior week. The positive rate of 3.9 percent is down from 4.9 percent.

MSDH reported 141 new positive cases and one death in Lafayette County in Friday’s update.

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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