Bobby Wayne, a retired reverend with prostate cancer and leukemia, had spent a week calling health agencies around his county in Mississippi, trying to find out where to get the Covid-19 vaccine.
But when Mr. Wayne, 64, called the state’s hotline on Monday, he said an operator, whose job was to help residents schedule vaccine appointments, gave him unnerving and incorrect information.
“This is the way she put it to me: They had no documentation that the vaccine was effective,” Mr. Wayne said. “And then she asked me did I still want to take it.”
When he told her “yes,” he said 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” over a misleading script that the hotline operators had been given, according to the State Department of Health.
The script referred to pregnant women, women who were lactating and people with compromised immune systems.
It asked: “Do you still want to be vaccinated with an understanding there are currently no available data on the safety or effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines, including Moderna Covid-19 vaccine, in pregnant people, lactating people, or immunocompromised people?”
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 that the vaccines are safe for people with autoimmune conditions.
Liz Sharlot, a spokeswoman for Mississippi’s State Department of Health, said that the wording in the script could be confusing “when read out of context.”
March 25, 2021, 6:56 a.m. ET
“We are replacing this confusing and misleading language,” she said in a statement
However, Ms. Sharlot said the operators were never told that there was no documented proof that the Moderna vaccine or any other vaccine authorized for use by the Food and Drug Administration worked.
“Just the opposite is true,” she said. “Both Moderna and Pfizer have high efficacy rates.”
Ms. Sharlot added, “I think the gentleman misunderstood.”
Mr. Wayne said he understood perfectly.
“I’m not confused at all,” he said. “I may be 64 years old and handicapped, but my brain is still functioning and my ears are, too.”
Mr. Wayne said it was unsettling to think people calling for information about getting vaccinated could be discouraged by the very people who are meant to help them get a shot.
“I wouldn’t want anybody else going through that,” he said.
Mississippi has administered at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine to 22 percent of its population, according to a New York Times database, putting it among the states that have had a slower rollout. Just over 12 percent of state residents have been 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 hotline operator and called it a “violence.”
“It’s dangerous,” Dr. Wayne said. “There is a therapy available. There is a way to treat something, and you’re making it difficult for them to have access to that treatment so it’s increasing the likelihood they may become sick.”
The Mississippi Free Press reported the story after Dr. Wayne wrote about her father’s experience on Twitter.
Dr. Thomas E. Dobbs III, the state health officer, responded to her post on Twitter, sharing a link to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that showed the Moderna vaccine was 94.1 percent effective at preventing Covid-19 and that “no safety concerns were identified.”
Dr. Wayne said she was pleased that the health department appeared to take her concerns, and her father’s, seriously.
“I think it was a really good example of the State Health Department trying to reach out because they actually want to restore faith” in the vaccine, she said.
Mr. Wayne said he got his shot on Wednesday morning.
“I feel a whole lot better,” he said.