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Pearl River County residents being protected from COVID

Every day 30 people receive the COVID-19 vaccine at Highland Community Hospital.

There are 10 doses of vaccine per vial, and 30 people is a good number for hospital staff to keep a steady flow of people coming in for vaccines all day long, said Katie Foulon, Director of Infection Prevention, Employee Health and Outpatient services at Highland.

As of Monday, hospital staff have administered almost 200 doses. The hospital has received 500 doses, and has appointments scheduled for all 500 to be administered by the end of next week, said Regional Director of Pharmacy Services Haley Hayes. There are also a couple of hundred people on the waitlist to receive the vaccine.

“The vaccines are coming as fast as they can, but it’s still taking a lot of time to get everyone vaccinated and we’re happy to see so much interest, that a lot of people in the community want the vaccine,” said Hayes. “At this point, we’re just at the mercy of the health department, so hopefully we’ll get more doses and be able to vaccinate more people soon, so just be patient is my message.”

As of Monday, healthcare workers, long term care facility residents and staff and  residents age 75 and older could receive the vaccine in Mississippi. By Tuesday afternoon, that was expanded to include those 65 and older and those with certain chronic health conditions. The Mississippi State Department of Health will determine when vaccinations will be expanded to more groups of people based on vaccine supply, according to the MSDH website.

On Monday afternoon it was Arlene Ferrell’s turn to get vaccinated.

“I’ve been taking the flu shot since 1968, and I ain’t never had the flu,” she said. “If I can get it to protect me, I’m getting it.”

In a small brightly lit room on the first floor of the hospital, Foulon scanned Ferrell’s patient ID bracelet and asked the mandatory question, “Are you pregnant or planning to become pregnant?”

Ferrell filled out paperwork while Foulon prepared the vaccine dose. Ferrell chose to receive the vaccine in her left arm.

“Couldn’t even feel that shot going in there,” she declared after the vaccine was administered.

Foulon then offered her patient a dose of Tylenol, a sticker saying she received her COVID vaccine, a piece of candy and a bottle of water.

The vaccine can cause soreness in the arm, but nothing worse than the tetanus shot, Hayes said. She received her vaccine two weeks ago. As a healthcare worker, it was an emotional experience.

“I was pretty emotional just because it’s been a long time coming. The anticipation and then it was finally here, it was emotional.” said Hayes.

Many people have a little reaction at the injection site, like swelling, warmth to the touch or a little bit of itching and discomfort that lasts for a couple days before it goes away, said Foulon.

Ferrell had to wait for 15 minutes after receiving the vaccine so she could be observed for any side effects.

The hospital will begin receiving second doses of the vaccine this week and should be able to start administering them on Jan. 25 or 26.

The COVID-19 vaccine requires two vaccinations 21 to 28 days apart, depending on the brand of the vaccine, for full effectiveness, according to the MSDH website.

“The first dose they are seeing is about 80 percent effective at preventing COVID, which is fantastic in and of itself and then once you get that second dose it’s over 90 percent effective and that’s hard to get with a vaccine, so I’m very hopeful that this is going to be the start to the end,” said Foulon.

Some Mississippi facilities have received the Pfizer vaccine, while others have gotten the Moderna vaccine, but the two are very similar down to efficacy rate and side effects, said Foulon.

Approximately 155 healthcare workers have received the vaccine in the community, said Hayes. Like the general public, some healthcare workers have been hesitant to get vaccinated.

“There’s been a little bit of hesitancy with it being a new vaccine but as time goes on, we are having more people saying, ‘Is it too late? Can I come get mine now?’ So we are still seeing that interest coming out,” said Foulon.

The CDC is recommending that people who have had COVID-19 still get vaccinated once they are outside of the quarantine window. People who received the antibody infusion or got convalescent plasma would have to wait 90 days after receiving it before getting their vaccine, said Foulon.

“Other than that the CDC is recommending everyone go get it, because we’re really hoping for that herd immunity,” she said.

Hayes is hopeful the vaccine will mark the beginning of the end of the pandemic.

“We’ve been going on almost a year of this and I hope this is the light at the end of the tunnel and the only way for us to get there is if everyone gets vaccinated or as many people as possible. I want all this to be over,” she said.

People can call Foulon’s office at 601-358-9457 to schedule a vaccine appointment. Vaccinations are available in Pearl River County through the Pearl River County Hospital, the Pearl River Family Clinic, Highland Internal Medicine and Highland Pediatric and Primary Care Rural Health, according to the MSDH website. The site, msdh.ms.gov, has a full list of COVID-19 vaccine providers throughout the state with contact information.

Free drive-thru vaccinations are available at sites throughout the state. There are no drive-thru sites in Pearl River County yet, but drive-thru site schedules are rolled out weekly and can be found on the MSDH website.