Robert Wise: David, Mississippi’s outbreak of the Delta variant looks out of control.
David Dzielak: Mississippi is third in the nation for covid infections. Infections are spreading past the highs of last January and are heading higher. Only Florida and Louisiana are worse. Delta is burning through Mississippi’s unvaccinated. The unvaccinated have fueled two doublings of cases in the past month. The rise is exponential.
Robert Wise: The unvaccinated are circulating so much virus, they are causing increasing breakthrough infections for our vaccinated friends who are going to emergency rooms for infusions. How does the whole region look?
David Dzielak: Mississippi is at the center of an arc of covid infections across the South that keeps getting redder and darker. Four of the states with the largest case rates, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama, of course have among the lowest vaccination rates.
Robert Wise: Mississippi is in the fourth wave. The only prospect I see for ending the surges is for Mississippi to keep focused on herd immunity by requiring vaccination of more of our herd. Returning to normal is important to me. I watched a contact go through three days of fever from a breakthrough infection until the vaccine kicked in. I want the risks stopped. And I want to make family plans without the disappointments of covid upending them. That is not happening.
David Dzielak: Mississippi will have public health and safety only with herd immunity. The first step is for Mississippi to reach President Biden’s goal of vaccinating 70% of adults. The US achieved that goal August 2, but Mississippi remains behind with coverage of just 52% of adults. The state’s vaccinations, though, are picking up as Delta rampages, doubling from July 10. If that pace continues, Mississippi should achieve 70% coverage of adults by October 5 (WPO projection). Again, though, it takes 70% of the entire population for herd immunity. Coverage for adults is just a first step.
Robert Wise: What is the second step?
David Dzielak: Mississippi has vaccinated 1.2 million of its almost 3 million with at least one dose. That’s almost 42% of the entire population (WPO data). The State needs to move from 42% to least to a 70% coverage of the entire population. The 70% of everyone, together with natural immunity, would put Mississippi at herd immunity. Dr. Thomas Dobbs tweeted this past week: “We need about 1 million more immune Mississippians to reach population immunity.” So, the state’s vaccination goal is currently 2.2 million, or 73% of the population.
Robert Wise: Is Mississippi ever going to get there?
David Dzielak: Mississippi will reach herd immunity because as Delta rampages, more unvaccinated people get real. The cascade of additional vaccine requirements for a job, an education, a restaurant meal, or a concert, also ensure vaccinations. Soon the FDA will issue permanent vaccine authorizations. So, when will the state reach herd immunity? There are interesting charts by American Public Media (APM) Research (apmresearchlab.org, “Inoculation Nation”).
Robert Wise: What predictions do the APM charts make?
David Dzielak: One chart shows that at the rate of vaccination since mid-December 2020 Mississippi would vaccinate 70% of its population by February 2022. Keep in mind that includes the higher vaccination rates last March and April.
Robert Wise: I drove eagerly to Meridian twice for my vaccines in that period last spring.
David Dzielak: A second APM chart, updated August 8, shows Mississippi would reach the 70% mark in December 2021 but assumes vaccinations at the faster rate of the past two weeks. That is a six-month improvement over their earlier prediction. I expect we will make the December date provided concern from Delta not only continues, but Mississippians put on the vaccine mandates needed to reinforce the uptake.
Robert Wise: That is fabulous news for our JYC Community Sailing Foundation’s Mardi Gras Drawdown with Raphael Semmes on Thursday February 24, 2022. Confidence to build for the future is civilization’s backbone. Has the pandemic’s speed surprised you?
David Dzielak: It really has. As you know, we both worried what Mississippi’s low vaccination rate would bring in our June 10 article, “Mississippi’s vaccine hesitancy problem”. By late July we were saying infections of the unvaccinated looked like a brush fire headed toward the trees by fall and winter. The trees on fire now; the flames are shooting straight up. UMMC, the state’s largest hospital, reported last week that all its intensive care units and emergency rooms are full and overwhelmed. Johnathan Wilson, the UMMC chief administrator, said: “There just aren’t enough nurses, physicians and hospital beds to treat the cases this wave is causing.” Dr. Dobbs tweeted on August 9: “ZERO ICU beds…we have more than 300 patients waiting in ERs for a room”. It is worse than last winter. The pandemic is ripping through Mississippi’s unvaccinated.
Robert Wise: What else will it take for Mississippi to reach herd immunity?
David Dzielak: We need relentless focus on vaccine coverage. The vaccines are our exit from the pandemic back to normal and confidence.
Robert Wise: On the legal front, we need to see federal and state law enforcement crack down on the hucksters, including in Mississippi, spreading vaccine misinformation. The hucksters sell subscription newsletters and nutritional supplements on the lie the vaccines are unsafe; the overwhelming evidence shows the contrary. The hucksters’ interest is to keep the pandemic going by steering people away from the vaccines to their sensationalist newsletters and supplements. And there is no health in it. The authorities must stop them.
Thank you, David. I have appreciated our conversations these past two and a half months. We watched with foreboding, knowing the potential of the epidemic to rage through the unvaccinated half of Mississippi.
David Dzielak: I appreciate our conversations also, Robert. The overriding duty of Mississippi’s private and public leaders is to act—act on their own initiative to bring public health and safety by requiring vaccinations for some citizen benefits. The pandemic must end.
David Dzielak is the former Director of Mississippi Medicaid. Robert Wise is a Northsider.