Removing Barriers to Vaccination Should Help Mississippi Public Health

COVID-19 vaccination

I continue to be appalled at the piss-poor job the local authorities here in the part of Mississippi where I live have been doing with respect to COVID-19 vaccination. It still isn't clear to many vaccinated locals who should be getting boosters now vs. who should wait or even where to go if one wants one. The information distributed by the state makes it sound like boosters are only available at the county health clinics, but this isn't true. It hasn't ever been true. Many local pharmacies have had boosters for some time. There's even a large vaccine clinic in the town where I live that has been offering boosters as soon as they were available. They have a particularly efficient setup, but few even know they exist. I only know about them because I am already connected with the larger health care system to which they belong.

If I didn't know any better, I'd say that the state wants to make it as difficult as possible for people to get vaccinated. Of course, I do know better. I don't really think this is the case; I think this is a matter of inept leadership and a disconnect between those in public health with the authority to set policy and the general public. The authorities have made it far too confusing and difficult to access, and that continues to be a deterrent to some. Worst of all, the state officials refuse to accept any responsibility, preferring to blame the public.

I got my booster this week, which was a few weeks earlier than I had intended. I have a few large public events coming up where social distancing will be impossible and nobody will be wearing masks (because Mississippi is a Trump state and Jesus will save us), so I figured I better not wait any longer. Nobody seems to know how long the initial vaccinate is supposed to last, but there seems to be a consensus that it becomes less effective over time. With infection rates expected to spike over the holidays, waiting seemed risky.

The vaccine clinic was doing a brisk business, though it sounded like most of it was for boosters and not for 1st or 2nd doses. I felt bad for several of the people who came in while I was there, many with the same story. A trusted friend had told them this was the place to get their booster, and they had simply wandered in because they didn't know any better. I had to dig through two confusing websites, one of which I was already familiar with, so I had no trouble understanding why some would be confused. They didn't have their vaccine cards with them, hadn't made an appointment, weren't sure whether they were even eligible, and were uniformly out of breath. Nobody knew where this damn clinic was because it had moved to a new location a month ago. I ended up parking where I thought it was and walking several blocks before I was able to find it. It was clear I wasn't the only one.

The people I saw in this clinic were trying to do the right thing. That's why they were there. They were taking public health and their own health seriously enough to want a booster shot. Unfortunately, too many barriers had been put in their way. A simple process had been made arduous and for no good reason. A couple people were turned away because they were sick or had other issues. They could have been saved a trip if they had known to call ahead.

The clinic staff were fairly patient, but it was easy to see that their patience was wearing thin. I could hear the frustration in the voice of one staff member after the fourth person came in just like I described above. She was saying the same thing over and over. I don't think she stopped to consider that many older people are going to struggle to navigate such a complex system, especially when things keep changing with little if any notice.

Assuming that the COVID-19 pandemic is not going to end any time soon and/or that this will not be the last plague we face, I think state and local authorities need to figure out how to improve the public health system to make it more accessible to all who need it. Then again, I suppose that planning ahead is bound to seem wasteful when so many have been convinced that Jesus is about to return.