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Increasing demand but limited supply force Mid-South states to make adjustments for vaccine eligibility

Mississippi and Arkansas added eligible groups for vaccine appointments, but health experts urged patience as more attempted to get in line for doses.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — "Unfortunately, we just don't have a lot of doses to give to people, so it feels like it's taking a long time to get people vaccinated," Dr. Jennifer Dillaha with the Arkansas Department of Health said.

In Arkansas and beyond, COVID-19 vaccine demand far outnumbers the supply.

"The rollout is much slower than we would like," Dr. Dillaha said. 

Currently in the Natural State, health care workers, long-term care residents and staff, and first responders are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Those at dozens of pharmacies across Arkansas - including the Marion Family Pharmacy - are assisting in that vaccination effort.

The pharmacies will also be instrumental next week, when those 70 and older, teachers and school staff, child care, and higher education workers will also become eligible for appointments.

"We know that the appointment demand will go way up, but the supply is not going to change. So this is going to create some frustrations I'm afraid for people who would like to get vaccinated as soon as possible," Dr. Dillaha said.

In Mississippi, also starting Wednesday, along with the previous eligible groups, those 18 to 64 with pre-existing conditions and those 65 and older can also make a vaccine appointment. 

The demand caused issues with a vaccine scheduling website and hotline. And based on the monumental surge of appointment demand, a Mississippi Department of Health spokesperson said: "at this time, we have no additional vaccine, and every appointment is tied to an actual vaccination. The MSDH hopes to receive a large shipment of vaccine in mid-February that should help put additional shots in people’s arms. We understand the frustration brought on by this sudden change of plans. We will certainly keep all Mississippians updated regarding additional vaccine." 

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves is hopeful other groups will eventually be able to get in line. 

"To our emergency first responders, to our police officers, and to our firefighters and to our teachers, you are on deck," Gov. Reeves said. "The next time we have an update, I expect that it will be an announcement that the vaccine will be available to you, so please stay tuned."

In Tennessee, eligible vaccine groups include health care workers, first responders & morticians, long-term care residents and staff, and those 75 and older.

In Shelby County, weeks worth of appointments are filled at a drive-thru site at Memphis' Pipkin Building. Health experts caution it could take a year - possibly more - to vaccinate the broader public. 

RELATED: Here's how to get a COVID-19 vaccine if you live in Tennessee, Mississippi or Arkansas

Clinical Resources for Each COVID-19 Vaccine Find information for COVID-19 vaccination administration, storage and handing, reporting, and patient education for each specific vaccine