New Tool Helping Identify Vaccine Deserts Across Mississippi As Variants Loom | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

New Tool Helping Identify Vaccine Deserts Across Mississippi As Variants Loom

Mississippi State Department of Health Director of Health Protection Jim Craig explained how tools like the Vaccine Equity Planner help MSDH know when and where vaccination pop-up sites are needed. Photo courtesy MSDH

Mississippi State Department of Health Director of Health Protection Jim Craig explained how tools like the Vaccine Equity Planner help MSDH know when and where vaccination pop-up sites are needed. Photo courtesy MSDH

The Mississippi State Department of Health plans to open up more relevant pop-up COVID-19 vaccination sites in coming weeks with the aid of a newly launched tool. The “Vaccine Equity Planner,” which Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health developed together, uses data from Google to determine “vaccine deserts,” or areas farther than a 15-minute drive to the nearest vaccination site.

In a June 23 press briefing, MSDH Director of Health Protection Jim Craig explained how tools like the Vaccine Equity Planner can help decide the most effective pop-up vaccine sites.

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The tan areas will be where MSDH focuses its efforts when planning when and where to set up pop-up vaccination sites. Photo courtesy MSDH

“What you see in tan here are areas of opportunity because those are areas where we have some high social vulnerability,” Craig said. “It's more than 15 minutes’ drive to the closest active COVID-19 vaccination site. So if we were to develop pop-up locations around the state, this is one of the things that we factor in to make sure that when we work with local officials, churches, and others, that we try to bring vaccine(s) closer and closer to where people live, work and play.”

The pop-up sites offer Pfizer vaccines to any eligible person over 12 years of age, and appointments are not necessary.

“Second doses are usually available in these areas about three weeks later,” Craig said. “No documentation, identification or appointment is required at any of these pop-up locations.”

Vaccination rates since the end of spring have seen Mississippi dip to among the lowest in the country, with 33% of the state receiving at least one dose, while 30% have been fully vaccinated.

“We do have the lowest rates in the country,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said. “That's compared to the rates nationally, where we're looking at over 53% of Americans that have at least initiated the vaccine with one dose and close to 46% of the population has been fully vaccinated, so we are seeing some lag in Mississippi.”

“We’re getting good buy-in in areas, but it's not uniform across Mississippi,” he added.

President Joe Biden and his administration have been on a blitz across the South, encouraging residents to reach out for information about vaccinations. First lady Jill Biden visited Jackson State University on June 23 to promote vaccine outreach and awareness, before leaving for Nashville later that day.

State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs voiced his concerns about vaccine hesitancy during the press briefing, citing a vaccine “plateau” that could be more dangerous as different variants spread across the country.

“We have made great improvements in the number of cases and deaths, but we're at a plateau at the moment,” Dobbs said. “We're continuing to see ongoing cases, we're seeing some outbreaks now, especially with concerns about the evolving and increasing Delta variant, which is more contagious and potentially more deadly than previous strains that we've seen.”

Though the state has seen just 29 cases of the Delta variant, Byers called the more contagious variant an “unknown quantity” in terms of how it may impact cases and deaths in the state. The State Epidemiologist insisted that getting vaccinated is the best way to stay ahead of any new variant spread.

“Don't wait until that cat's out of the bag again,” Byers said.

Email Reporting Fellow Julian Mills at [email protected].

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