Mississippians are still largely skeptical about getting vaccinated. As a result, state vaccine numbers have remained stagnant, even in the face of rising COVID numbers. Only 45% of the state’s residents are currently vaccinated. That lags far behind the 63% of Americans who’ve gotten the shot. Nearly half-million Mississippians have gotten a booster shot. But even as Omicron has become the dominant strain, it hasn’t made the unvaccinated rush to get immunized. A fact that local health officials say isn’t surprising.
“A lot of people aren’t clear on the information being provided to the community. A lot of the patients I see are simply confused,” said Dr. Timothy Quinn. “They believed getting vaccinated would protect you from contracting the virus. They see folks vaccinated and still getting sick. So their question is, why should I get vaccinated at all?”
Quinn says getting vaccinated and wearing masks is still the best way to safeguard against COVID. It’s also still the best option to avoid lengthy hospital stays and death.
“Overwhelmingly, folks who do have breakthrough infections have a much less chance that they will become severely ill, end up in ICU, or lose your life,” he said.
The first reported case of Omicron was on December 6, 2021. Mississippi’s vaccination rate was then 44%. On last Friday, the single day number reached 9,300 cases, the highest ever recorded in the state. Yet, vaccination numbers haven’t budged. Quinn says fear is playing a big part.
“People are afraid. Some are concerned the vaccine will cause them harm, and that’s understandable,” he said. “Our trust for the medical establishment has impacted us even today. Fear has to be considered.”
Quinn says it’s important to not create an “us vs them” scenario. He says those who have chosen to remain unvaccinated aren’t doing it out of anger, it’s because they probably haven’t had access to information. There’s also a portion of citizens, he says, that simply don’t want to feel “controlled” or “forced.”
While Omicron seems to lack the severity of other strains, it has proven more contagious than the Delta variant. Hospitals are seeing an uptick in COVID patients again. Gov. Tate Reeves insists there will be no more shutdowns.
Prior to the arrival of the new strain, fully vaccinated individuals were considered adequately protected against Delta and previous variants. However, studies have shown better immune responses against the Omicron variant among individuals who have received a booster vaccination compared to non-boosted, fully vaccinated individuals.
“Follow mitigating measures as best you can,” he said. “Continue to social distance as much as possible. And if you begin to feel sick, go get tested.”
Quinn says there is optimism in the numbers hitting a plateau in South Africa and New York. He says, because Omicron hit those places the hardest, it’s only a matter of time before we see numbers in Mississippi begin to fall.