Bobby Wayne, a retired minister with prostate cancer and leukemia, had called health officials in his Mississippi county for a week to find out where to get the Covid-19 vaccine.
When 64-year-old Wayne called the state helpline on Monday, he said an operator whose job it was to help residents schedule vaccination appointments had given him annoying and inaccurate information.
"That's how she told me: They had no documentation that the vaccine was effective," Wayne said. "And then she asked me if I still wanted to take it."
When he said "yes" to her, the operator replied that there were no appointments available and that he should call again the next morning.
The confusion was the result of “miscommunication” about a misleading script that the hotline operators had received, according to the Ministry of Health.
The script referred to pregnant women, breastfeeding women and people with weakened immune systems.
It was asked: "Still want to be vaccinated with the understanding that no data are currently available on the safety or effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines, including the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine, in pregnant women, breastfeeding women or the immunocompromised?"
Most experts agree that the risks to pregnant women from Covid-19 are far greater than any theoretical harm from the vaccines. Doctors have said they believe the vaccines are safe for people with autoimmune diseases.
Liz Sharlot, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Health, said the wording in the script could be confusing "if read out of context".
March 24, 2021, 9:11 p.m. ET
"We are replacing this confusing and misleading language," she said in a statement
However, Ms. Sharlot said operators were never told that there was no documented evidence that the Moderna vaccine, or any other vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration, worked.
"Just the opposite is the case," she said. "Both Moderna and Pfizer have high rates of effectiveness."
Ms. Sharlot added, "I think the Lord misunderstood this."
Mr. Wayne said he understood perfectly.
"I'm not confused at all," he said. "I am maybe 64 years old and disabled, but my brain is still working and so are my ears."
Mr. Wayne said it was worrying to think that people asking for information about the vaccination might be discouraged by the very people who are supposed to help them get a shot.
"I don't want anyone else to go through this," he said.
According to a New York Times database, Mississippi has given 22 percent of its population at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. Just over 12 percent of citizens are fully vaccinated.
Mr. Wayne's daughter, Elizabeth Wayne, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, complained on Twitter about her father's conversation with the state operator, calling it "violence."
"It's dangerous," said Dr. Wayne. “There is therapy. There is a way to treat something and you make it harder for them to get access to that treatment, making it more likely that they will get sick. "
The Mississippi Free Press covered the story after Dr. Wayne wrote on Twitter about her father's experience.
Dr. Thomas E. Dobbs III, the state health commissioner, responded to her post on Twitter and shared a link to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that showed the Moderna vaccine, Covid-19, was 94.1 percent effective prevented and that “No safety concerns were identified. "
Dr. Wayne said she was pleased that the health department appeared to be taking her and her father's concerns seriously.
"I think it was a really good example of the State Health Department trying to contact because they actually want to restore confidence in the vaccine," she said.
Mr. Wayne said he got his shot Wednesday morning.
"I feel a lot better," he said.