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Dobbs addresses COVID-19 vaccinations and more at Vicksburg-Warren Chamber meeting



Dr. Thomas E Dobbs III
State Health Officer Dr. Thomas E Dobbs III (photo from MSDH)

Dr. Thomas Dobbs is a name Mississippians have come to hear quite often in the last few months in the context of COVID-19.

Dobbs, an infectious disease physician and head of the Mississippi State Department of Health, has the complex task of working alongside Gov. Tate Reeves to keep 3 million Mississippians safe and healthy during this global pandemic.

During the monthly Vicksburg-Warren Chamber of Commerce meeting, held virtually Thursday, Dr. Dobbs was the keynote speaker. He discussed a possible vaccine against COVID-19 in the near future.

“I think we will probably have a distribution of the vaccine within the next six months, or at least start looking at it,” Dobbs said. “There may be some candidate vaccinations as early as November, but that is a super aggressive timetable.”

Dobbs described a normal vaccine development as a relay race broken down into legs, but with the coronavirus vaccine developing — and the need so pressing —it is more like an all-out sprint.

“We have not done shortcuts,” Dobbs said. “We have done different legs of the race at the same time. … We have let everybody run at the same time.”

With the talk of a possible vaccine right around the corner, Dobbs answered the question of safety concerns associated with it.

“As an individual infectious disease physician, if we are looking at the data, and I don’t think it has enough safety data, I will personally not recommend it. I’ll say let’s wait,” he said. “So, I think making sure we do it in a way that we insure folks have accurate safety data is going to be very important.”

To assure the public’s safety concerns regarding the future vaccine, communication must come into play. Dobbs said he has a team working on communication strategies to help the public understand what vaccines are, how they are made and the steps to take to make sure they are not only safe but also effective.

During a question and answer forum, one of the 60 participants on the Zoom Conference call asked if Dobbs thought the vaccine would be mandatory for certain populations.

“We do not anticipate that the vaccine would be mandatory,” Dobbs said. “The only thing I might say is that in health care workers we may require it like we do with the flu vaccines.”

Dobbs also said it could be plausible for military personnel and first responders to be lumped into the category along with health care workers for a mandatory vaccine.

“But as far as school entry or things like that, we do not anticipate it being a mandatory vaccine,” he said.

There is a growing concern as cooler temperatures approach that flu season may create a problem on top of the current fear of COVID-19. Dobbs said people can contract both the flu and the coronavirus at the same time.

“It’s going to be a daunting challenge to simultaneously combat regular seasonal flu and the coronavirus pandemic if we are not sure which one a person has as we are waiting on test results,” Dobbs said.

Dobbs mentioned it is important to get your flu vaccine, this year especially.

“If we have less flu in the community, we will know where the coronavirus is,” he said.

He also mentioned his take on traveling during the pandemic.

“I would not travel by airfare unless it’s desperately urgent. I won’t even eat inside restaurants because of the risk. I’ll eat outdoors, but if it’s not absolutely necessary, I wouldn’t travel,” Dobbs said.

Rounding out the meeting, Dobbs made it clear this is not over, and we cannot get comfortable.

“Please do not relax,” Dobbs said.

“Please do not let your guard down. Not only will we go right back, but it will be a lot worse. The number of cases we see every day is still way high,” he said.

Dobbs said the cases were horrible, and now that people are seeing a tiny decrease, it has made them relax, but it is still very bad.

He said Mississippi reports an average of 700 to 800 and sometimes even 900 positive cases in one day. He stressed this number will get worse if we choose to let our guard down.

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