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Ole Miss Announces Task Force Preparing for Campuswide COVID-19 Vaccinations

Although the exact date when doses will arrive is pending, the University of Mississippi Vaccine Distribution and Administration Task Force is preparing to launch a campuswide vaccination program as soon as shipments are available.

The task force is working with the Mississippi State Department of Health to obtain doses of a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible. Ole Miss officials are hopeful that once it arrives, the process to offer immunizations to the entire campus community can begin quickly.

“I am extremely confident in our vaccine administration team,” Provost Noel Wilkin said. “They have been administering vaccines on our campus for about a decade and conduct Operation Immunization each year for influenza vaccines.

“With the planning and competence of our team and the expertise and guidance of the Vaccine Distribution and Administration Task Force, I am confident that we will be able to begin administering vaccine to people on our campus within hours of it arriving.”

University officials do not know how many doses will be received initially. The Mississippi State Department of Health announced Monday (Jan. 18) that additional COVID-19 vaccine appointments are available for the following populations:

  • All health care workers and EMTs/paramedics
  • All persons 65 and older
  • Persons 18-64 years of age who have underlying medical conditions

Individuals from these groups are strongly encouraged to schedule an appointment through one of the following contacts:

  • MSDH COVID-19 vaccination drive-through scheduler application
  • COVID-19 Vaccine Call Center, 877-978-6453 or 601-965-4071
  • Local vaccination providers

Once it begins operations, the university’s COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic will be at Tad Smith Coliseum and will operate from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, with extended hours of 4-6:30 p.m. Wednesdays.

“Appointments will be made online and in accordance with the Mississippi State Department of Health’s phased approach,” said Lauren Bloodworth, clinical associate professor of pharmacy practice who is leading the logistics of administering vaccines. “Pharmacists and student pharmacists will administer the vaccine.”

Task force members are very confident about the safety of the vaccines, said Dr. Hubert Spears, staff physician in the Employee Health Center.

“These two vaccines that have been given an emergency use authorization by the FDA have each already been administered to around 70,000 people who were research volunteers over the last few months,” he said. “The number of serious side effects have been extremely low and comparable to all other vaccines that have been in use with great success for many years.”

Both vaccines involve injecting a minute strand of messenger RNA identical to a portion of the segment of mRNA in actual SARS-CoV-2 viruses that codes for the production of the spike proteins on the surface of the virus. This mRNA cannot produce an intact replica of a functioning SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“Therefore, it is incapable of entering the nucleus of the cells of the person who receives the vaccine and, as a result, cannot incorporate into the DNA, which is only present in the nucleus,” Spears said.

The mRNA used for the vaccine is not taken from an actual SARS-CoV-2 virus, but is a laboratory-engineered copy of the segment of mRNA that codes for spike protein. Unlike some other vaccines, nothing injected into those receiving the vaccine has ever been a live virus.

“These vaccines cannot cause a clinical infection with COVID-19,” Spears said. “The reason these vaccines were given emergency use authorization, rather than full FDA approval, is that they were working so incredibly well in preventing COVID-19 and were having so few side effects that it was felt to be unethical to withhold the vaccine until the originally agreed-upon number of subjects in the trial had been reached.”

This happens frequently in medical research, especially when one form of treatment is found to be vastly superior to another or to placebo, Spears explained.

“The fact that so many of our best infectious disease specialists and scientists such as Dr. Fauci and the head of our Mississippi State Department of Health, Dr. Dobbs, have taken the vaccine gives me an added amount of confidence that the vaccine is safe and that taking it is the right thing to do,” he said.

“A study was published in the first 1,850,000 Pfizer vaccines that were given after the EUA was issued. The rate of anaphylaxis was only 11 per million, and there were no deaths among those because of appropriate treatment with epinephrine.”

For the latest information about COVID-19 vaccinations, visit https://coronavirus.olemiss.edu/vaccination/.

By Edwin B. Smith | University of Mississippi Communications