While Hattiesburg officials were encouraged by early numbers of COVID-19 vaccinations, the area seems to have hit a standstill in that regard - for example, as of July 8, only 26 percent of Forrest County residents had been fully vaccinated.
To help turn those numbers in the opposite direction, the City of Hattiesburg, Hattiesburg Clinic, Forrest Health and Twin Forks Rising are partnering to host a free Back-to-School Vaccination Clinic. The clinic, which was announced at a July 9 news conference, will be held from 9 a.m.-noon July 17 at the C.E. Roy Community Center, 300 East 5th Street in Hattiesburg.
“Everyone here believes in personal choice, but we also believe in personal responsibility,” Mayor Toby Barker said during the news conference at the community center. “It is completely unnecessary for residents in our community to continue dying from the coronavirus when there is a safe, effective vaccine available.
“So our message continues to be: trust your doctor, trust the science, and get your shot. While we are holding this event at a time where parents with students over the age of 12 - as well as faculty and staff - can have access to the shot, this free vaccine weekend is for everyone.”
Participants at the clinic will be given an option of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine - which is a one-dose vaccine available to individuals 18 years and older - or the Pfizer vaccine, which is for individuals 12 years and older. Those choosing the Pfizer vaccine will be scheduled for a second dose on August 7 at the community center.
Children should be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
“For so long last year, we waited - we sacrificed collectively and individually through social distancing and mask requirements,” Barker said. “All of those things were done while we waited on an available vaccine.
“That vaccine has arrived, and it has afforded us an opportunity to begin returning to many of those things we once enjoyed pre-pandemic. It has given us a light at the end of the tunnel; it has provided a way out of this illness. However, a way out only works if people are willing to get on that path.”
Hattiesburg Clinic physician Dr. Bryan Batson said through the Health Works Immunization Clinic - which is a partnership between Hattiesburg Clinic and Forrest Health - more than 33,000 doses of vaccines have been given, with almost 1,500 of those at the community center. Although those numbers seem encouraging, Forrest County is still lagging behind state averages of vaccinations, and Mississippi ranks 50th in the nation in vaccination rate.
“That’s something we need some improvement on,” Batson said. “As has been outlined, to be clear, you do not want this infection; you need to avoid it at all costs.
“For the last 16 months, this community has come together in our fight against the pandemic. I’m asking you to recognize that this fight is not over. Please protect yourself, your friends and family and community, by getting vaccinated so we can bring down additional hospitalizations and death."
Ward 2 Councilwoman Deborah Delgado, who founded Twin Forks Rising, also is urging residents to get vaccinated - or, if already vaccinated, to reach out to friends and family who may not be.
“As our children get ready to go back to school, we certainly want to make sure that they are protected,” she said. “One of (Twin Forks Rising's) goals is to make sure that we address social detriments to health, including income and lack of access.
“We are delighted to offer you - on behalf of our partnership with the Sunshine Lady Foundation and Citizens National Bank - $25 gift cards for the first 200 individuals who come to C.E. Roy … to get the vaccine.”