A vaccine incentive may be coming in Mississippi, but don’t expect it to be a lottery.

“I will say the lottery stuff is probably out for us, as far as having a vaccination lottery,” State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs said. “With our federal grant funds, that has not really been something that they have endorsed.”

But the Mississippi State Department of Health is looking at other incentive options, he said during a weekly talk with the Mississippi State Medical Association.

“It’s going to work for some people,” said Dobbs. “And it’s just a tool. This is not the answer to our challenge, but we want to use every tool in the toolbox, so we are absolutely looking at that. Expect to hear something about that in the near future.”

Mississippi ranks last in the percentage of residents fully vaccinated, and Dobbs believes the reason stems from similar behavior patterns seen with the flu vaccine.

“Why does your average 40-year-old not get the flu shot? It’s because they don’t think they need it,” he said. “I think that’s something we really struggle with, because it’s part of our health care culture here … It’s really sad. People in foreign countries would saw off their small toe to get a COVID vaccine.”

And he has harsh words for the large number of nursing home employees who are opting not to take the vaccine.

“We’re going to have to do something about that,” said Dobbs, “and we’re looking at our options to more forcefully promote immunization, because it’s so important for our vulnerable populations. I think it’s absolutely reckless, bordering on unethical, for people to work in nursing homes and not be vaccinated.”

More aggressive testing regimes are likely forthcoming for those settings.

At this point, it’s probably easier to get a COVID vaccine in Mississippi than any other state, Dobbs believes. While numerous pharmacies have the vaccine, the state has a new program making smaller quantities available to physicians so that doctors can make sure their regular patients are vaccinated.

The state drive-thru locations have transitioned to walk-up sites with no appointment required, although appointments can still be made, and MSDH is working toward having the vaccine available at all of the county health departments in the next few months.

The agency is also pushing hard for local organizations to host vaccination clinics. It also now has a reimbursement program for eligible providers to conduct clinics.

“We will pay all the overhead costs for people to go out and do community events or home vaccinations,” said Dobbs.

As for the need for booster shots, “I think the real question is not when, but who,” the doctor said. “There probably are some people who are going to need augmented immunity.”

Speaking about the possible origin of COVID-19, Dobbs said he believes the lab theory is plausible.

“Is it the most likely explanation? I’m not sure about that,” he said. “The 1977 swine flu, H1N1, looks like it came from either a lab leak or a vaccine trial gone awry. Things can happen.”

As for the “magnet challenge” and the idea that the vaccine is magnetizing people, Dobbs said, “Don’t be dumb on purpose.”

Local statistics

Dobbs said case numbers are “looking really good” compared to where they were. On Thursday, the state reported 194 new positive cases and one death that had occurred in October and was identified through death certificate reports.

After exceeding 10 again several weeks ago, hospitalization numbers in Corinth have declined. As of Wednesday, Magnolia Regional Health Center reported three patients currently hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19.

n Alcorn County had 28 cases via suspected community transmission for the week of May 23 to 29, rising from 17 the previous week. The positive rate was 4.9 percent from May 12 to 25, up from 3.1 percent during the May 5 to 18 period.

n Tishomingo County had 7 cases from May 23 to 29, down from 12. The positive rate of 4 percent fell from 6.6 percent.

n Prentiss County had 11 cases from May 23 to 29, rising from 4 the previous week. The positive rate of 6.1 percent rose from 1.4 percent.

n Tippah County had 2 cases from May 23 to 29, down from 3 the previous week. The positive rate, at 2.5 percent, is down from 3.9 percent the previous week.

n McNairy County had 0.6 cases per day from May 26 to June 8, falling from 1.9 per day during the prior two weeks. The county had a positive rate of 1.6 percent over the last seven days.

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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