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No matter how small it may be, it’s a start

One of the best parts about moving to a new town is the chance to sit and down and visit with community and civic leaders, learning their stories and soaking in their insights.

With no urgent business at hand, the talks are a chance to listen and learn – something we don’t seem to do often enough these days.

Although COVID-19 has changed the pace and the format of many of these introductory meetings, I did have the pleasure this week of meeting with Alvin Hoover, CEO of King’s Daughters Medical Center, and David Culpepper, its director of marketing.

Not surprisingly, COVID-19 and its impact on both the hospital and the community dominated much of our conversation. And while both men shared that this past year – the more than 310 days since COVID-19 made its way to Mississippi – have been the most challenging in their careers, Mr. Hoover said something I wasn’t expecting:

“I can honestly say the last two Saturdays have been the best two days I’ve ever had in healthcare.”

Those two Saturdays? Well, they were the first two days KDMC was able to distribute the vaccine to eligible senior citizens in Lincoln County. While the hospital received only 800 doses two distribute over those two days, those doses were symbol of hope and relief to the residents who were able to receive the shots. For the healthcare workers who have been on the frontlines of the battle for more than 300 days, the doses were a reminder that better days are ahead.

The men talked of smiling faces, stories of relief and hope shared by the folks at highest risk in this pandemic. And the reward of seeing that hope was enough, they said, to spur the frontline workers for another day, another week, another month.

If the spread of COVID-19 and its disruption of our lives is the story of 2020, perhaps the vaccine and its promises of hope might be the story of 2021, albeit a slow one to develop.

The challenge with the vaccine is simply its availability and distribution, a frustration shared by healthcare workers and citizens throughout the state and nation. As of Friday, the Mississippi Department of Health reported a total of 165,875 doses of the vaccine administered in our state: 150,786 first doses and 15,089 second doses. Of those, 52,720 have gone to residents ages 75 and older; more than 69,900 to residents ages 50-74; and more than 42,300 to people younger than 50. Among those are doctors and nurses, first responders and even political leaders.

It’s a start, but a meager one. According to the 2019 U.S. Census estimates, more than 34,150 people live in Lincoln County and 17.5 percent – more than 5,800 people – are over the age of 65. And so far, the county has been allocated vaccinations for about 13.8 percent of those older residents. Some estimates say it could take almost nine months to vaccinate Mississippians now eligible to receive COVID1-9 shots and state health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs has worked this week to “temper expectations” about any increase in the state’s vaccine allocation.

It’s a frustrating reality that we face as a state and a nation – one that can’t be solved with political rhetoric. We need more vaccine production and a delivery system that puts those doses in the hands of medical professionals who are ready and able to distribute them. And, like everything associated with this pandemic, we need patience.

Because as the doctors, nurses and administrators at KDMC have seen first-hand, there is hope.

Stacy G. Graning is general manager of the Brookhaven Daily-Leader. Reach her at stacy.graning@dailyleader.com.