JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Twenty-thousand Mississippians signed up for vaccine appointments just hours after they became available Monday, Gov. Tate Reeves said, telling residents that more would be added next week.
While over a hundred-thousand Mississippians are now partially vaccinated against the coronavirus, that number will rise quickly this week as state leaders work to get as many inoculated as possible.
Reeves said those vaccination efforts have ramped up over the past week, an increase which quickly overloaded the state’s vaccination appointment system.
Because of that, officials with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, the Mississippi State Department of Health and the University of Mississippi Medical Center worked through the weekend to make the site more accommodating to large numbers of users.
Reeves said the website was able to handle six thousand users trying to access the site every second in a surge test Sunday.
MEMA Director Greg Michel said the user experience has also been improved.
“It should be a much quicker opportunity to get in, see what’s available. If nothing available, get out and then come back later. Also what the call center again, you should expect, users should expect a better experience,” Michel said.
This week alone, the state is vaccinating more than 30,000 people, Michel said, with an additional 31,200 vaccinations coming next week.
All of those are accomplished through the vaccination appointment website, covidvaccine.umc.edu, and the phone number provided by the state.
Reeves said they’ve also adjusted their strategy to address medical facilities that aren’t vaccinating enough people, leaving doses sitting unused.
Of the 147 locations on the state’s hospital and private clinic list, Reeves said most, nearly two-thirds, gave out less than half of the doses they’ve been given.
Going forward, Reeves said clinics and hospitals that give out less than 65 percent of their current doses won’t get any more allocations of vaccine until they meet that threshold.
“Whether it’s our drive throughs, or a hospital or a clinic, let me be clear, I don’t care as long as it gets done,” Reeves said.
Last week, Reeves lamented Mississippi’s ranking of 50th in vaccinations nationwide. Now, the governor said the state could be as high as 36th, depending on the criteria used.
The availability of appointments this week stand in stark contrast to what Liz Sharlot, director of communications for MSDH, said last week.
“At this time, we have no additional vaccine, and every appointment is tied to an actual vaccination,” Sharlot said in a press release Wednesday. “[MSDH] hopes to receive a large shipment of vaccine in mid-February that should help put additional shots in people’s arms.”
Hours later, Reeves countered that claim on social media, saying “it is not true that there are no more shots until mid-February” on Twitter.
On Friday, two days after the communication snafu, MSDH announced on social media that the state received additional vaccine that would allow them to continue weekly appointments.
3 On Your Side asked State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers about the discrepancy and apparent breakdown in communication.
“I’m not real sure what exactly happened down with the communication breakdown, if it was a communication breakdown. Certainly it wasn’t an intent to say that there weren’t doses available. And certainly, it wasn’t an intent to say that we weren’t going to be able to make any additional appointments,” Byers said.
Byers told reporters that MSDH works closely with the governor’s office and wants to make sure those appointments can be expanded and slots available, but must also make sure there’s enough vaccine to go around for those, too.
“We’ve got to match that up. We’re gonna continue to work on that. And certainly, we’ll make sure that our communications are clear regarding that,” Byers said.