State officials are pushing to fill up all available appointments for COVID shots as the vaccine launch expands.

Gov. Tate Reeves announced on Tuesday that people 65 and older are now eligible, dropping the age requirement from 75, as well as people who have underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus. State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs said those conditions include cancer, chronic immune disease, COPD, Down’s syndrome, heart disease, immunocompromised conditions, obesity, pregnancy, sickle cell disease and diabetes.

“There are appointments available later this week and into next week,” said Reeves.

For the general public, the state currently is largely focused on the drive-through vaccination sites. While the number of those sites has increased, there are still none closer to Alcorn County than Tupelo.

Those who want to get an appointment are encouraged to do so online at covidvaccine.umc.edu or by calling 1-877-978-6453. The state is working to reduce wait times for those who call the phone number. The website and phone number are only for making an appointment with one of the drive-through sites.

“We now have the ability to do about 30,000 per week through our state operated drive-through centers alone,” said Reeves, “and does not include the other three avenues of distribution,” which are private clinics, nursing homes and other long-term care centers, and hospitals.

After vaccinating its staff, Magnolia Regional Health Center offered about 850 doses to local residents ages 75 and older. Appointments for those doses quickly filled up. Reeves praised that effort in Tuesday’s press conference, calling it an example of what needs to be happening across the state. He is concerned that some hospitals have not used their doses, and it could begin to cost the state additional doses, because it appears that the ability to get shots into arms quickly may be a factor in future allocations.

First responders, police officers, firefighters and teachers are on deck to be the next groups to which the vaccine will become available, said Reeves.

He said the state’s vaccine distribution is “quickly improving,” with a jump from just over 20,000 shots given a week ago to 62,744 as of Tuesday afternoon. Of those, 57,014 were given as first doses, and 5,730 were given as second doses.

The distribution numbers for the last week were 9,100 doses to private clinics; 4,600 doses to community health centers; 30,475 doses to hospitals; and 700 doses to pharmacies.

“My main priority,” said Reeves, “is to not try to fight this pandemic with stricter and stricter guidelines or stricter and stricter orders. It’s to get better and better at distributing the vaccine, recognizing the virus is still before us, that we as individuals must make good decisions.”

Dobbs encourages residents to get information about the vaccines from factual sources and to ignore rumors about the vaccines causing infertility and disabilities, which he called “made-up nonsense.”

“It’s anti-vax people trying to cause trouble,” he said.

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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