When it comes to getting a coronavirus vaccine, Mississippi residents have an abundance of options. On Thursday, there were more than 73,000 slots to be had on the state’s scheduling website, up from 68,000 on Tuesday.
In some ways, that growing availability of appointments is something to celebrate: It reflects the mounting supplies that have prompted states across the country to open up eligibility to anyone over 16. But public health experts say it also exposes something more worrisome: the large number of people who are reluctant to be inoculated.
“It’s time to do the heavy lifting needed to overcome the hesitancy we’re encountering,” said Dr. Obie McNair, an internal medicine practitioner in Jackson, the state capital.
Although access remains a problem in rural Mississippi, experts say that the state — which three weeks ago became one of the first to open eligibility to all adults — may be a harbinger of what much of the country will confront in the coming weeks as increasing supplies enable most Americans who want the vaccine to easily make appointments.
in one recent survey indicated a lower willingness to be vaccinated than Hispanic or white people.
The hesitancy has national implications. Experts say that 70 to 90 percent of people in the United States must be vaccinated for the country to reach herd immunity, the point at which the virus can no longer spread through the population.
In Mississippi, a quarter of all residents have received at least one vaccine dose, compared with the nationwide average of 33 percent, according to state data. Other Southern states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee, have similarly low rates of vaccination.
Some other heavily Republican states are also finding themselves with surfeits of doses. Officials in Oklahoma, which has delivered at least one dose to 34 percent of its residents, said on Thursday that they would open up eligibility to out-of-state residents. In recent weeks, Republican governors in Ohio and Georgia voiced concern about lackluster vaccine demand among their residents.
Tim Callaghan, an assistant professor at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health and an expert on vaccine skepticism, said that more research was needed to determine the reasons behind Mississippi’s slackening vaccine demand, but that states with large rural populations, Republican voters and African-Americans were likely to be the first to confront the problem.