When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Pine Belt last spring, Forrest General Hospital and Hattiesburg Clinic partnered to open the Cough and Fever Clinic, which has so far treated and tested more than 34,000 patients in the face of the virus.
During a Jan. 8 news conference at the hospital, officials from the two entities announced a second initiative in the fight against the pandemic: the HealthWorks Immunization Clinic, which will begin offering COVID-19 vaccines on Jan. 11. The clinic is located on the first floor of the main campus of Hattiesburg Clinic, near Owl Drug Store.
“We know there’s a huge demand for this vaccine,” said Dr. Steve Farrell, chief medical officer at Forrest General Hospital. “We’re anxious to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, and that’s the reason for setting up this clinic.”
HealthWorks Immunization Clinic has been vaccinating health care professionals since Jan. 4 as part of the first phase of the Mississippi State Department of Health’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan. All heath care personnel, long-term care facility workers and residents, as well as individuals 75 years and older, are now eligible to receive vaccinations.
Eligible patients can schedule vaccination appointments through their Iris account or by calling (601) 261-1620. The clinic will be open seven days a week as long as officials continue to receive adequate supplies.
“Currently, our strategy is to vaccinate approximately 250 patients per weekday, and 400 patients per day on the weekends,” said Dr. Bryan Batson, chief executive officer of Hattiesburg Clinic. “That will allow us to vaccinate over 2,000 patients a week with our current staffing model.
“That is our plan at this point. Of course, as everything has been over the last several months, that could change as newer information becomes available to us.”
The current vaccination options consist of a series of two doses, given three to four weeks apart. The first dose is designed to prime the patient’s immune system to fight the virus, while the second dose boosts the production of antibodies.
“What we asking is that when you get your first injection, you make your appointment for your second injection,” Farrell said. “It’s very important that the second injection be given (on time).
“It’s about four days that you have, one way or the other, to get the vaccine in that period. You can’t miss for a week, so we ask people to make that appointment at the time of the first shot.”
The vaccine will not give a person COVID-19, nor does the mRNA interact with the DNA of a person’s cells.
“With it being a two-dose series, immunity does not really happen until after the second dose of the vaccine,” Batson said. “Even after that second dose of the vaccine, it’s a 95% immunity, which is phenomenal.
“However, it is still recommended, even after the second dose of the vaccine, that everyone should continue to use the techniques with social distancing and mask usage to further reduce the spread of the virus. This is not a ticket out of those measures.”
There are no requirements to receive the vaccine, although patients will be asked to remain in the clinic for 15 minutes after the vaccination to be monitored for side effects. Patients will not be directly charged for the vaccine.
Although officials are currently using the Moderna vaccine, the next round given may be the Pfizer vaccine.
“The first round of vaccines administered to Forrest General employees was the Pfizer vaccine, and this week we’re in the midst of administering our second dose to our employees here, which completes the vaccination series,” Farrell said. “I did receive my second dose, and I will tell you that I did not have any side effects. That doesn’t mean you won’t, but I hope you don’t.”
Current guidelines from the Centers for Disease control state that individuals who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 wait at least 90 days before receiving the vaccine.
“They also issued other guidance that it’s okay to get the vaccine, as long as you’re not in your acute infectious period,” Farrell said. “However, there is some concern that the risk of side effects that make you feel ill might be greater in those patients who have had COVID in the last 90 days.”