Analysis: COVID-19 vaccinations in Miss. plunge more than 60 percent over last five weeks

Analysis: COVID-19 vaccinations in Miss. plunge more than 60 percent over last five weeks...
Analysis: COVID-19 vaccinations in Miss. plunge more than 60 percent over last five weeks (Graphic by Marcus Martin)(WLBT)
Published: May. 8, 2021 at 5:48 PM CDT|Updated: May. 8, 2021 at 6:50 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - What Gov. Tate Reeves warned about two months ago is already happening much faster than some experts anticipated: fewer Mississippians are getting vaccinated against COVID-19 each week since March 27, a 66 percent decrease in daily average doses over that timeframe.

Over the last two weeks, the number of vaccinations plummeted nearly 50 percent, according to data provided by the Mississippi State Department of Health.

While more than a fourth of Mississippians are now fully vaccinated, Dr. Nelson Atehortua said it’s not good enough.

“I hope that the governor understands that he has sent some conflicting messages to the people by telling the people there is a choice. There’s always a choice, right?” Atehortua said. “But then also our freedom is tied to consequences.”

Those consequences, Atehortua said, could mean outbreaks, community spread and patients flooding hospitals once again, because with the vaccine available and fewer COVID-19 restrictions in place, people will inevitably let their guard down.

Atehortua, who works as assistant professor of public health at Jackson State University, has worked as a medical doctor in the U.S. and his home country of Colombia for decades, and knows all too well the toll COVID-19 has taken on both countries.

He believes vaccine hesitancy has only gotten more prevalent through multiple factors, including the nationwide pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine weeks ago, when a small number of women between the ages of 18 and 48 developed a rare form of blood clot after getting the shot.

Thus far, no causal link has been established between the J&J vaccine and those clots.

“There have been only 25 cases in the whole country, and there have been more than 8.4 million doses. So so there is a huge disproportion here,” Atehortua said. " A woman taking oral contraceptives or smoking [is] 1000 times more likely to have the clot that a woman [taking] the vaccine.”

Dr. Justin Turner, an internal medicine specialist, said that hesitancy with J&J has spilled over into skepticism regarding the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines also, though the vaccines are different and no evidence has been produced showing serious complications from those other two drugs.

“A lot of it is basically looking for an excuse to say, ‘Hey, you know what, no, I’m not gonna get it.’ There’s also a lot of people saying ‘I wanted to wait and kind of see what happens,’” Turner said. “Well, guess what? There’s been several million people who have gotten the vaccine. So it’s been enough people to see if there’s any significant, you know, problems.”

Much of that skepticism continues to be fueled by misinformation, Atehortua said, remarking that he regrets that the pandemic became a flag for ideological purposes.

“The viruses and infections in general, they don’t care about the people’s political party affiliations. They only understand that if there is a person that is susceptible, they will grow there and multiply,” Atehortua said. “If you’re susceptible, and the virus hits you. you might end up in the hospital, and you might die.”

The drops in vaccinations mean tens of thousands of appointments remain available across the state on any given day.

On Friday, for example, 3 On Your Side counted 44,874 first-dose appointments available in various walk-in and drive-thru vaccination clinics as of 12:15 p.m.

“Initially, we were looking at very optimistic scenarios, thinking that by 4th of July, we’ll have a good percent of the population covered,” Atehortua said. “Now we’re [at] a different reality. Now we’ve seen that scenario for July 4th is no longer feasible.”

One month ago, Reeves addressed many people’s concerns about the vaccine by letting experts dispel those rumors with facts; since then, the number of shots in arms has continued to drop.

Turner said he believes primary care physicians hold the key to better informing people who are hesitant to take it.

“One thing that Dr. Dobbs and the health department is pushing is trying to get vaccines in the clinics with primary care doctors,” Turner said. “And we think that a help because everyone is not going to trust someone that they see talking on TV, but they will trust that person that they go to about their life.”

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