Mississippi’s Low Vaccination Rate Leaves Hospitals In Crisis

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As the virus surges, hospital officials are begging residents to get vaccinated. UMMC announced in July that it will mandate its 10,000 employees and 3,000 students be vaccinated, or wear a N95 mask on campus. By the end of August, leaders revised that policy, vaccination is the only option.

Moriarity said this surge has taken a toll on morale more than previous peaks of the virus. Her team thought in May and June that despite Mississippi’s low vaccination rate, there was an end in sight. The hospital’s ICUs were empty and they had few COVID patients. Then cases surged with the delta variant of the virus, swamping the hospital.

Numbers of total coronavirus hospitalizations in Mississippi have dipped slightly, with just under 1,450 people hospitalized for coronavirus on Sept. 1, compared with around 1,670 on Aug. 19. But they are still higher than numbers during previous surges of the virus.

In the medical center’s children’s hospital, emergency room nurse Anne Sinclair said she is tired of the constant misinformation she hears, namely that children can’t get very ill from COVID.

“I’ve seen children die in my unit of COVID, complications of COVID, and that’s just not something you can ever forget,” she said.

“It’s very sobering,” continued Sinclair, who is the parent of a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old and worries for their safety. “I just wish people could look past the politics and think about their families and their children.”

To deal with overflow COVID patients, Christian relief charity Samaritan’s Purse set up an emergency field hospital in the parking garage of UMMC’s children’s hospital.

The hospital is treating an average of 15 patients a day, with the capacity for seven ICU patients.

Nurse Kelly Sites, who has also treated COVID patients in hotspots like California and Italy, said it’s heartwrenching to know that some of the severe cases could have been prevented with the vaccine. Many patients are so sick they can’t talk. Nurses walk around with scripture verses on duct tape on their scrubs and will recite them to their patients.

Samaritan’s Purse is an international disaster relief organization with missions spanning multiple continents. Sites has responded to 20 missions, in Haiti, the Philippines, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other places.

“To respond to the United States is quite surreal for us,” she said. “It’s a challenge because usually, home is stable. And so when we deploy, we’re just going to the disaster. This is the first time where home is a disaster.”


Leah Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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