A healthcare worker at Baptist DeSoto Hospital receives one of the first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday Dec. 16, 2020. 

The first COVID-19 vaccines in DeSoto County were given to front-line health care workers on Wednesday afternoon at Baptist DeSoto Hospital.

Methodist Olive Branch Hospital expects to receive vaccines in the coming weeks. The first push to distribute the vaccine in the county will kick off a months-long initiative to immunize the community as the pandemic, by many metrics, is worse than ever.

At Baptist DeSoto, the vaccines arrived Tuesday and were given to front-line employees Wednesday afternoon. The hospital received 975 doses of the vaccine on Tuesday morning, which will be distributed to front-line employees at the hospital who want it.

All employees at Baptist DeSoto completed an educational module before making a decision about taking the vaccine. Individuals will decide for themselves whether or not to take the vaccine.

“This is a great day for our hospital and our community,” said Brian Hogan, Baptist DeSoto’s CEO and administrator said in an announcement from the hospital. “As many have said, we’re finally beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I truly believe the vaccine is our way out of this pandemic, and I’m so proud that our employees are serving as an example by being among the first in our community to receive this important vaccination.”

Methodist Olive Branch expects to receive its first shipment of vaccines in the coming weeks, though that timeline has not yet been confirmed. Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare said it would begin vaccination as soon as possible.

It is not clear, however, how many Methodist employees will be willing to take the vaccine.

“Preliminary results from an internal survey show about 45% of respondents reported that they will get the vaccine. 26% say maybe and 28% say they won’t receive it,” Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare said in an announcement about the vaccine. “We are providing educational materials and leveraging early adopters to ensure individuals have all the information they need to make the best choice for them.”

The announcement noted that the vaccine is an individual, voluntary choice, but that the hospital system is encouraging employees to take it early for the protection of themselves, their families and patients.

“Methodist is ready to proceed and begin administering it to frontline Associates who have direct contact with COVID-19 patients, including physicians, nurses, environmental service workers, transporters, medical technicians and others,” the announcement said.

Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare also noted that it has the capabilities to store the vaccine at appropriate temperature, whether in a freezer or shipping container with an adequate supply of dry ice.

The first vaccines in Mississippi were given Monday, with State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs receiving the first dose in the state.

Mississippi expected about 25,000 doses in the first shipment of the vaccine, which will go to front-line health care workers.

Though the first doses of the vaccine — which has shown in trials to be 95% effective — are now here, it may be many months before most county residents are inoculated. 

The first shipments of the vaccine arrived in the Memphis area on Sunday, where FedEx took the first doses to distribute around the country. The first shipment out of Memphis went to Jackson for distribution in Mississippi, according to reporting from The Daily Memphian.

The first doses of the vaccine come as the virus stretches the health care system in the county beyond capacity. Last Friday, ICUs were full across the entire state of Mississippi, according to Dobbs.

DeSoto County continues to break records of new daily cases reported and hospitalizations. No available staffed hospital beds remain in the county, according to the most recent data from the state health department.

All 30 of Baptist DeSoto’s ICU beds have been occupied since Dec. 5, according to state data. At the time of publication, Shelby County’s ICU capacity is 97% filled, according to reporting from The Daily Memphian.

At time of publication, DeSoto County has reported 116 COVID-19 deaths and over 12,400 cases since the beginning of the pandemic. About 1 in 15 county residents has contracted the virus at some point during the pandemic.

The virus is spreading faster than ever in DeSoto County, with a moving average of about 145 new cases per day. That rate of spread means the county is in the middle of a “severe outbreak,” according to health care experts.

Though the official number of COVID-19 deaths is 114, there have been over 200 more deaths this year reported in the county than the average of the last five years.

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