Push to expand vaccine eligibility in the Mid-South as new challenges emerge

Push to expand vaccine eligibility in the Mid-South as new challenges emerge

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County expanded vaccine eligibility to more citizens this week and could expand eligibility again in a matter of days.

It comes days after Mississippi made all its citizens eligible for the vaccine.

The push to expand vaccine eligibility comes as new challenges emerge.

The latest data shows more than 169,000 thousand people or about 18 percent of Shelby County’s population have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Over 71,000 people have received two doses but officials say appointments aren’t filling up as quickly as they like would.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland asked the state for permission to expand vaccine eligibility to all Shelby County adults.

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“We think with the open appointments that we’re having, the increasing doses that we’re getting are all telling us to move in that direction,” said Strickland.

State officials plan to make an announcement at a news conference on Monday.

Mississippi opened vaccines to all of its citizens on Tuesday.

Data from the Mississippi State Department of Health shows 20 percent of Mississippians have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 11 percent are now fully vaccinated.

The push to expand vaccine eligibility comes after President Biden called for all American adults to be eligible by May 1.

But challenges remain.

Some states are starting to see their COVID-19 numbers rise again as people let down their guards.

Health officials worry some states are moving too quickly to reopen.

Shelby County Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph says he’s like to see more younger people vaccinated.

“When we look at our numbers, we see it’s the younger people that have more of the cases, particularly those 18 to 54,” said Randolph.

There’s also increasing concern the vaccines won’t be as effective against new strains of the virus, like the South African variant confirmed this week in Mississippi.

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“We still have some work to do to get ourselves past this and the emergence of variants strands is among the more concerning things,” said Dr. Paul Byers, Mississippi State Epidemiologist.

Despite this, health officials say all three vaccines approved for emergency use in the U.S.  provide robust protection from the most severe effects of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death.

Even more reason, they say, for people to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

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