A coronavirus vaccine could be available to health care workers and first responders in Mississippi as soon as next month, the state's top health officials said Thursday.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said Mississippi has been tentatively approved to receive an initial round of 183,000 doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and partner BioNTech, which officials are hoping to see delivered by mid-December.
Supplies are limited, so those who are the most high-risk will get the vaccine first, Byers said.
“We need to make we get them protected,” Byers said of the state's health care workers, during a virtual news conference. “Those are the individuals who are taking care of the COVID-19 patients in the hospital, in the clinical setting. That's going to be the first push.”
Residents who have health conditions or are over the age of 65 will be next in line to receive the vaccine. It will likely be a period of months before it is more broadly available to the general public.
The announcement about a vaccine comes as Mississippi is experiencing a surge of new confirmed coronavirus cases and hospitalizations that rival numbers seen during the peak in the state over the summer.
Byers and State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said the vaccine shipment is pending federal approval, but that the news they've received so for about trials on the new vaccine is encouraging.
Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have enrolled nearly 44,000 people in final testing of their vaccine. Every vaccine study is overseen by an independent “data and safety monitoring board,” or DSMB. These boards include scientists and statisticians who have no ties to the vaccine makers.
Early and incomplete test results indicate that the vaccine against COVID-19 may be 90% effective, officials said Monday.
Pfizer is on track to apply later this month for emergency-use approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, once it has the necessary safety information in hand.
“Based on the initial information we have, I feel really good about it,” Dobbs said Thursday.
Dobbs said Mississippi is in the midst of a “severe surge” in which the department of health has tracked near record-high case numbers.
He said they are starting to see “extreme stress” in the state's health care system. There were no ICU beds available in Jackson Thursday, and a very limited amount available in other parts of the state.
In the last couple of weeks there have been more than 10,000 new cases in Mississippi and 150 deaths, an “astounding” number, Byers said.
The state health department said Thursday that Mississippi, with a population of about 3 million, has reported more than 130,600 virus cases and at least 3,514 deaths from COVID-19 as of Wednesday evening. That’s an increase of 1,271 cases of 17 deaths from the day before. The department said 16 people died between Nov. 5 and Nov. 11 with information from death certificates arriving later.
The true number of virus infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can infect others even when they don’t feel sick. The virus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most but can be more severe or fatal for some, especially older adults and those with underlying health conditions.