After reaching a peak in February, Mississippi’s vaccination rate has declined so much that our rate is now last in the nation. Or to borrow the term sailors use on the Rez, our vaccination rate leaves us DDL (Dead Dang Last!).
Only 34% of our fellow Mississippians have received at least one dose of the vaccine compared to 50% of the national population--a 16-point deficit, worst in the country. Vaccines in Mississippi now are easily available. Yet, Mississippi is the most vaccine hesitant State.
Data crunchers at the APM Research Lab estimate Mississippi will take over a year to reach herd immunity, until August 2022, at the present vaccination rate of just 1.2% of the population vaccinated every two weeks. Herd immunity requires vaccination of 70% of the total population.
By contrast, the entire US is now projected to reach herd immunity with at least one dose for 70% of the total population by August 27 of this year. Achieving the 70% mark, together with the natural immunity of those who have had Covid (at least 15%), should place the United States solidly at herd immunity in less than three months. And regardless of how one defines the herd immunity threshold, as the APM Research Lab puts it, “most agree that vaccinating as many people as possible is the quickest way to return life to normal.”
So, while the rest of the nation goes about the business through vaccines of getting back to normal by the end of this August, in Mississippi the covid pandemic will not come to a halt for a long time, well into 2022, at least for our many unvaccinated citizens--with untold downward effects on our state’s health, reputation and economy.
Younger people make up much of the vaccine deficit. While 65% of all Mississippians above the age of 65 are fully vaccinated, only 35% of all Mississippians ages 18 and older are fully vaccinated. While the people in your circle may be vaccinated, ask the people you encounter every day as bank tellers, restaurant waiters, security guards and receptionists. You may be astounded to hear how many say “No!” or “I’m thinking about it”.
Not all is gloomy. Mississippi covid cases and deaths have declined significantly with warmer weather. Over the past week Mississippi averaged 162 confirmed cases and 4
four deaths. Still, what covid spikes will unvaccinated Mississippian’s experience in the face of ever more contagious variants and as Memorial Day gatherings give way to June weddings, July 4 gatherings, and then the cooler months of the Fall and Winter? Especially if the unvaccinated emulate the rest of us by dropping their masks.
Dr. Thomas Dobbs on May 14 tweeted this stark warning to unvaccinated Mississippians: “Covid is not gone. You will likely 1) get Covid or 2) get the Covid vaccine. Getting vaccinated is the best option by far for every age group and risk category.”
Indeed, recently the New York Times reported that while the nation’s cases are declining, “that rosy picture hides the strength of the pandemic among unvaccinated people.” The case rate “among susceptible, unvaccinated people is 73 percent higher than the standard figures being publicized”. Further, “the case rate for unvaccinated residents is similar to the case rate for all residents on December 31” at the pandemic’s height. For the unvaccinated person, the pandemic is as dangerous as last Winter. There is no sense in letting our State be left behind.
What about our friends who have had covid and now have the antibodies? Should they get vaccinated too? They should consult their doctors. However, virologist Sabra Klein of Johns Hopkins Public Health recently answered yes: “Immunity from natural infection starts to decline after 6 to 8 months. We know that fully vaccinated people still have good immunity after a year—and probably longer.” She states the amount of natural immunity from covid illness can vary depending on the severity of the illness. However, even after a severe case, “that immunity may be declining” so “you should still plan to get vaccinated.”
Those suffering from long Covid should note the promising work of Yale immunologist Akiko Iwaski. Yale Medicine reports of her research: “as many as 30 to 40% of those who get the vaccine have reported improvements to their symptoms”. Iwaski’s hypothesis is that the vaccine helps the immune system fight off and remove residual virus lurking inside the body.
What can we each do? Ask the service people you talk to everyday if they have been vaccinated, patiently listen to concerns, and share your vaccination experiences. Second, urge our State’s leaders (the Governor, Lt. Governor and Speaker) to go out and be seen actively encouraging more vaccinations—like visiting vaccination sites alongside the Guard to thank folks for coming through to get their vaccines. Herd immunity is a cooperative project. We all need to pull in one direction so we can bring an end to the pandemic for all Mississippians sooner than later, and for Heaven’s sake, this year, not next year.
David Dzielak is the former Director of Mississippi Medicaid. Robert Wise is a Northsider.