Public rushes to get vaccine reserved for first responders

By , Daily Memphian Updated: December 30, 2020 11:36 AM CT | Published: December 29, 2020 12:46 PM CT

Although vaccines the Shelby County Health Department is giving are supposed to be only for those who fall in specific work categories, emails and social media posts circulating Tuesday, Dec. 29, directed people over age 75 to get in line.

The Health Department did not immediately respond to questions about how it is monitoring the situation at the two drive-thru tents at Lindenwood Christian Church, 2400 Union Ave., and 1826 Sycamore View Road.

It did say eligible workers for the first wave of vaccines are told to reserve a time through an online scheduling app and to bring a badge or employee ID. It did not say why it was not requiring that of everyone.

By Tuesday afternoon, it was turning some vaccine seekers away.

“We ask the public, including those 65 and older who do not fall within the 1a1 priority group, to wait until their respective priority group is scheduled for vaccinations,” department spokeswoman Joan Carr said in an email.

“It is critical that we focus on those workers who are at high risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus while serving the public.”

People in 1a1 include first responders, people working in COVID-19 mass testing sites, staff and residents of long-term care facilities, school health care providers and people who work in congregate care settings. 

Prudence Howe, a retired florist, got a shot at Lindenwood Tuesday after receiving texts from several friends to get in line. 

“I called another friend, and she was already in line,” Howe said. “Now, I just have to remember to get the second one in 28 days.”

Alisa Haushalter, director of the Shelby County Health Department, reiterated in the task force briefing Tuesday that vaccines were being given in “closed” pods. 

“That means that only those who are invited or fall in that (1a1) category can get vaccinated at those two sites,” she said.

About 800 people were vaccinated Monday, Dec. 28, and 700 people were signed up to be vaccinated Tuesday, she said. 

First responders, brass line up for vaccine in show of force

The Tennessee Department of Health website includes a list of the qualified 1a1 and 1a2 workers.

Haushalter said the Health Department was receiving “a lot of questions about the priority categories” and noted that slight revisions were expected from the state that would increase the time senior citizens have to get vaccinated.

Those revisions had not come through as of Tuesday afternoon.

The public rush to the test sites may stem from confusion in the guidance. In the first two categories of workers, people with underlying conditions, including being age 65 and older, do get priority if they are 1a1 or 1a2 workers.

State dashboard shows number of people vaccinated by county

“The focus now is on the 1a1 population,” Haushalter said. “As we get through that population, we will move to the 1a2 population.”

The 1a2 second phase covers all other health care workers with direct patient exposure: outpatient specialty providers, pharmacists and staff, patient transport, outpatient therapists, those in urgent care centers, environmental servicers, oral health providers and behavioral health providers.

One of the issues with people getting in line before their turn is that Shelby County does not currently have enough vaccine to cover all of its 1a1 workers.

“We actually need additional vaccine to come in, so we may not move to the 1a2 category as quickly as another county,” Haushalter said.

“Our anticipated ability to offer vaccine to some members of the general public should be in January,” she said. “But, again, that is going to be dependent on how much vaccine we receive. We are committed to continue to provide updates, but knowing it’s a very fluid situation at the current time.”

The updates on who may be vaccinated are also available at Shelby.community.

Later in the day, Haushalter said anyone who received a vaccine also got instructions for the follow-up dose.

“Additionally, individuals can register through Vsafe.cdc.gov for monitoring and to receive a reminder to get their second dose. Anyone who received a first dose, will be able to receive a second dose,” she said.

Shelby County has vaccinated a smaller percentage of its population than many other counties in the state. Haushalter cautions against comparing metro counties to rural counties, noting that rural counties are relying on public health systems to dispense the doses because they do not have large hospitals. In many counties in Tennessee, vaccinations started last week.

Shelby County Health Department began vaccinating Monday. To see what percentage of residents in Shelby County or any other county in the state have been vaccinated, go here.

The government is not mandating the vaccine. The Health Department knows of no local employer that is making it mandatory. 

The Health Department, Haushalter said, is receiving lots of calls about the safety of the two vaccines currently approved by the FDA. She noted that both passed a series of rigorous tests and checks done by outside advisory panels.

“The vaccine is safe, and the FDA has approved it for its current use,” Haushalter said.

In terms of severe side effects, Haushalter notes small percentages of people experienced some reactions in clinical trials, including tenderness in the arm or a headache, which she said are common with any vaccine.

She also noted that the two vaccines on the market (Pfizer and Moderna) are both mRNA vaccines and do not contain live virus.

Coronavirus Cases

Tuesday, the Health Department reported 371 new cases and a total of 66,084 cases since the start of the pandemic. 

Because fewer people got tested over the Christmas holiday, case numbers may be artificially low. Haushalter reminded people not to be complacent in their behavior or to believe that case numbers may already be subsiding and noted that the Health Department would be closely watching the numbers for several weeks.

And while people under age 40 still represent a disproportionate number of cases, the number of cases in people over 40 is rising, she said, a sign that the disease is being transmitted from younger to older people.

Currently, the work sectors with the largest percentage of infection are manufacturing and warehousing at 23%, health care at 21% and schools at 11%.

Health Directive

Health officer Dr. Bruce Randolph reminds the public that Health Directive No. 16 and the “Safer at Home” order took effect Dec. 26.

“I just want to remind everyone to go to the directive and specifically pay attention to what your business and service is required to do,” he said. “If you are not listed as one that should be open, you are closed.”

Examples of businesses that are closed include: museums, zoos, tourist attractions, arcades, concert halls, bowling alleys and pool halls. 

“If you serve food in these businesses, you can continue to serve food,” Randolph said. “It is the recreational aspect that is closed.”

With New Year’s Eve celebrations potentially in the works, patrons are reminded that restaurants and bars close at 10 p.m. under the directive. Live entertainment, including singing and dancing, is not allowed under the directive.

Restaurants are permitted to have indoor diners up to 25% of a building’s capacity — limited to 90 minutes. They must wear their masks at the table when they are not eating. Tables are limited to six patrons, including children.

He also reminds employers that they are responsible for provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to employees.

“It must match the risk of exposure they face in the workplace,” he said. “In personal care businesses, if a customer has to have a mask removed, those workers must have a mask and shield at minimum that adequately protects them.”

Some jobs will require employers to provide N95 masks, he said.

Blood donors

Blood, always scarce at the holidays, is in particular short supply now, due to canceled blood drives. Shelby County is down more than 700 units for December alone, according to David Williams, regional director of Vitalant, the former Lifeblood donation network.

“Across the U.S., nearly 1,900 blood drives in December and coming up in January have been forced to cancel because of COVID-19. That translates into about 45,000 anticipated donations that did not happen,” Williams said.

“Locally, dozens and dozens of Vitalant blood drives have been canceled.”

Blood and platelet drives are considered essential activities in the pandemic.

“With so many canceled drives, the need for businesses, churches, schools, government agencies, nonprofits and other community entities to step up and host a drive, it’s critical.”

Go to Vitalant.org to sign up.

Fines for offenses

The Shelby County Commission has approved $50 fines per offense for violating guidelines in Health Directive No. 16, which means one business can be fined for every customer not social distancing or masking up to a cap of $500 for the first violation.

The fines will be used as soon as the protocols for Health Department inspectors are approved by the county mayor and county attorney.

“We are in the process of finalizing that document and having it reviewed,” Haushalter said.

The fines will give the Health Department an alternative to closing businesses. One of the most glaring examples of a business out of sync with Health Department directives is the nightclub In Love Memphis.

On Saturday, Nov. 28, the club’s owner, Curtis Givens, erected a large tent at the business, 7144 Winchester Road.

Health Department inspectors visited before the party began and again later in the evening, and while they saw infractions, they did not close the party down because there was confusion, among Health Department inspectors, about whether an enclosed tent qualified as an outdoor space. 

The business was later closed for two weeks.

“In my opinion, the decision to close came a little bit later than I would have preferred,” Haushalter said. “Training has been done with staff. We have protocols in place and obviously, the facility was closed.”


coronavirus Shelby County Health Department coronavirus vaccine
Jane Roberts

Jane Roberts

Longtime journalist Jane Roberts is a Minnesotan by birth and a Memphian by choice. She's lived and reported in the city more than two decades. She covers business news and features for The Daily Memphian.


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