Vicksburg pediatricians not hesitant to offer vaccine, but overcoming hurdles

Published 8:00 am Saturday, July 3, 2021

Children 12-years-old and up are eligible and encouraged to get the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine by the CDC, even though fewer children than adults are infected.

However, there isn’t always easy accessibility to the vaccine for children in this age group.

While some local retail stores are offering the vaccine in Warren County, most pediatricians’ offices currently are not. To make the vaccine more accessible to young patients, pediatricians in Mississippi are being encouraged to enroll in the American Association of Pediatrics’ COVID-19 Vaccination Community Program. This would allow the doctors to administer the vaccine to their adolescent patients.

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Merit Health Medical Group Pediatrics houses the majority of pediatricians in the county. They are currently not offering the COVID-19 vaccine to their patients, but are in the process of applying to do so. Dr. Geri Weiland said the delay is not because they are hesitant to offer it, but rather that there are some hurdles to first overcome.

I don’t think it is a lack of people wanting to do it,” Weiland said. “I think it’s just taking a while in the 12-to-18 category to get pediatricians to where they can do it.”

When the COVID-19 vaccine first became available to children as young as 12, Weiland said she didn’t know of any pediatrics offices that could meet the refrigeration requirements for the large volumes of shipments of vaccines. She said the Mississippi State Department of Health has begun to make it easier and easier for offices to meet the requirements by now finding ways to break up shipments into smaller amounts.

Now that the requirements have been adjusted, Weiland said her office could finally consider offering it.

I couldn’t consider it before, because I didn’t have any place to put the vaccine,” Weiland said.

While this requirement has eased, it still isn’t an easy process for pediatricians to house the vaccines for their patients. This vaccine must be part of a separate application process, although all the doctors at Merit Health Medical Group are part of the Vaccines for Children Program. Weiland said the application process can be time-consuming, and it can be difficult to find the time to do it.

“I don’t know about the pediatricians across the state, but I know the four of us in this office, it’s almost like everybody who couldn’t be seen last year is being seen now,” Weiland said. “It’s very, very busy this summer.”

Weiland said she felt it was very important to offer the vaccine as soon as it became available for her to do so, and she is in the middle of the application process now. Once it is completed, she will begin offering it to each of her patients in the 12- to 18-year range.

We give out vaccines,” Weiland said. “We believe in vaccines. I’ve been in medicine for 40 years. I have seen vaccines work. We’ve prevented stuff that you’ve never even heard of. It’s not that we don’t believe in them or that we are afraid of the COVID-19 vaccine.”

She said the doctors in her office have still been advocating for the vaccine to their patients, but they have just been a bit slow to be able to provide it themselves.

Warren County has seen a steady decrease in COVID-19 cases in recent months. In the latest report on June 28, there was only one new reported case. Weiland said she attributes this to the rising vaccination rates. In Warren County, 35.6 percent of residents are fully vaccinated — just below the state total of 35.8 percent.

“I haven’t even looked at the numbers lately, because last time I looked, they were really good,” Weiland said. “Vaccines work. That’s just the truth.”

The Mississippi State Department of Health has credited the new Delta variant of COVID-19 for the majority of new cases found among unvaccinated people. Warren County has yet to see this new strand of the virus among new cases.

“Vaccinations are safe, easy to get, and high effective,” according to the Mississippi State Department of Health. “Even if you have had COVID-19, it can help ensure prolonged immunity to COVID-19 and variants.”

The MSDH urges people to continue getting vaccinated as young people may be putting their older family members at risk for the new variant. Pediatricians can help with raising the vaccination rate in Warren County by visiting this website to enroll in the COVID-19 Vaccination Program.

“We get out of the hole [of the pandemic] by having vaccines,” Weiland said.