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Mississippians quickly fill new virus vaccine appointments

JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi residents scrambled to book appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations after Gov. Tate Reeves announced Friday that 15,000 new openings were available for the first of two doses.

“I’m sure they will be booked quickly!” Reeves wrote on Twitter. “Stay safe and God bless!”

In just over two hours, all of the appointments were filled.

Laurie Bertram Roberts, who splits time between her home in Jackson and a job in Alabama, told The Associated Press she and one of her daughters went online Friday and booked vaccination appointments for themselves and six other family members.

Roberts said they managed to get appointments for five people in Jackson, where they live. But, they had to book one appointment in Vicksburg, which is about an hour’s drive one way, and two in Natchez, which is about a two-hour drive in one direction.

Roberts posted to Facebook: “Got my whole family registered for vaccine appointments and I feel like we got the Golden Ticket!”

Coronavirus vaccinations in Mississippi are currently available for people 65 and older, health care workers and those who are at least 16 and have health conditions that might make them more vulnerable to the virus.

Inoculations are being done at hospitals, community health centers, private clinics and at 19 state-run drive-thru sites. Jim Craig, senior deputy and director of health protection at the state Department of Health, said Friday officials are working to add more drive-thru sites to increase access.

Two new drive-thru sites are scheduled to open next week. A site in Warren County at the Uptown Vicksburg, formerly called Pemberton Mall, is opening Feb. 1. A site in Lawrence County at the Senior Center in Monticello is opening Feb 2.

Officials said adding more sites in the future will depend on whether they are able to get increased doses of the vaccine from the federal government.

Mississippi has received approximately 37,000 doses of the vaccine a week from the federal government for the last three weeks. State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said the Department of Health officials have been told by the federal government to expect a 16 percent increase over the next few weeks.

Additionally, the state has reclaimed 9,000 doses of excess Pfizer vaccine that was originally allocated to long-term care facilities and has not been used by CVS and Walgreens, pharmacies that were contracted by the United States government to complete long-term care inoculations.

“We’ll be working to get that quickly into the arms of eligible Mississippians,” Dobbs said.

Roberts, 42, said she and her relatives all have underlying medical conditions that could make them more vulnerable to the coronavirus. She said her family physician recommended in December that she and her children get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Roberts does advocacy work on a wide range of issues, including pushing to help people who live in poverty. Roberts said that before her family could afford vehicles just a few years ago, they would have had to make appointments only in Jackson, “and even getting to a drive-thru would have been difficult.”

“I understand the privilege of having two vehicles to go to these appointments,” Roberts told the AP.

People eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine can try to make an appointment at COVIDvaccine.umc.edu or by calling the COVID-19 call center at 1-877-978-6453.