Vaccinations lag in the South as health experts push states to reach 40% threshold

By | May 31, 2021

Several southern states have fallen behind on vaccinations relative to the rest of the United States, and public health experts are pressuring states to meet the threshold of fully immunizing 40% of all adults.

To date, more than 62% of U.S. adults over 18 have received at least one dose of a vaccine, while more than half of all adults have now been fully vaccinated, meaning that they have received both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna shots or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. States in the northeast have administered the shots most expeditiously so far, with over 50% of all adults in Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, and Rhode Island having been fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, the states with the lowest rates of fully vaccinated adults are Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Georgia. Fewer than 40% of all adults in those states are fully vaccinated.


Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, has called for U.S. health officials to strive for a benchmark of 40% of adults fully vaccinated, a threshold in which vaccinations outpace community spread of the virus, as seen in real-world examples, such as Israel.

“When you get to somewhere between 40% and 50%, I believe you’re going to start seeing real change, the start of a precipitous drop in cases,” Fauci said last month.

Vaccinations in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama have remained low even while rates elsewhere in the country climbed, indicating that vaccine hesitancy is a lingering problem. Mississippi has vaccinated the smallest share of its population, with less than 34% of adults having received at least one shot. In Louisiana, slightly over 35% of adults have received a shot, while just under 36% of adults in Alabama have gotten a shot.

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Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, continued to encourage people to get vaccinated when he lifted all remaining capacity restrictions on businesses this week, announcing that people who have not gotten the shots “remain at risk as more contagious variants continue to spread & as we enter into hurricane season.”

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, also announced an end to the state’s public health emergency order, though the state was already almost fully reopened. In her announcement, Ivey noted that COVID-19 “is absolutely now a managed pandemic,” as vaccines have been made widely available to all adults and children ages 12 and up.

“I believe in the science, believe that it works, and have confidence in it,” Ivey said. “I have been fully vaccinated, and I will live like I have been fully vaccinated.”

Still, daily vaccination rates in Alabama are low, with around 9,700 shots given on average each day this week. At that pace, Alabama will not have the majority of its population protected from COVID-19 for another year, according to an analysis from Bloomberg.

Uptake of the shots has also remained the lowest in Mississippi as state health officials continue to confirm cases of the mutated coronavirus strain first detected in South Africa in long-term care facilities.


“The problem with delaying [the shots] is that viruses continue to mutate and create new strains, and eventually, this virus will create a strain that will be resistant to the vaccine. So the longer we delay, the more space we allow for the virus to create that strain,” according to Dr. Thomas LaVeist, dean of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University in Louisiana.

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Several states with high rates of vaccination uptake have already established incentives for people to get the shots, from vouchers for free drinks in a handful of states to lottery and scholarship prizes for a select few vaccinated people in Ohio. Governors of those states with the lowest vaccination rates have not ruled out instituting similar incentives. Edwards, for instance, said this week that the state would introduce a lottery prize to incentivize more people, saying, “I just hope people don’t wait until there’s an incentive.”