Shelby County out of coronavirus vaccine; 2.6% of residents got shots

By , Daily Memphian Updated: January 06, 2021 4:37 PM CT | Published: January 06, 2021 3:47 PM CT

Shelby County ran out of vaccine on Wednesday, Jan. 6, and is awaiting word from the state when more of the serum will arrive to be administered locally.

As of Tuesday, 49 other counties in the state were out too.

“We are not involved in the state’s decision about how much we get. We just beg and plead for as much as possible, as often as possible and as consistently as possible,” said Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris. “All we can do is try to get it.”

As of 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, county officials had heard nothing of when the next shipment would be or how large it would be, forcing them to hold off on plans for the next mass clinics.

There have been 24,700 doses administered in Shelby County so far.

“It is very difficult to plan if you don’t know how much vaccine you will receive or when you will receive it,” Harris said.

Two hours later Wednesday afternoon, the Health Department sent a press release saying it was administering the last doses it had received in the first allocation from the state.

“We have made multiple requests for more vaccine,” Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter said.

Without information, the department cannot update the public on when the next clinics will open.

“When we receive additional vaccine, we will distribute the vaccine following the phased criteria established by the state,” she said.

Allotments from the state are based on population, although it is not clear what the ratio is. Shelby County is one of 29 counties that meets the state’s social distress index and qualifies for additional doses. The state has not said how many extra doses that will mean.

Hospitals receive separate allotments.

On Tuesday, Methodist-Germantown Hospital had enough to begin giving second doses to frontline workers who received their first doses 19 days ago.

“We order them as we need them, and we haven’t had any trouble so far getting shipments,” said Anna Lopez, chief operating officer.

Methodist is administering the Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored at ultra-cold temperatures. The doses can be given 19-23 days apart.

“We are going through them fast,” Lopez said.

In December, the county reserved space at Lindenwood Christian Church, 2400 Union Ave., for two weeks to run one of two drive-thru clinics for first responders and other frontline workers in the 1a1 category. Seven days later, it had to close and use the rest of the serum for people in long-term care facilities.

Meanwhile, Shelby County appears to lag at the bottom of the state in vaccination rate, according to a state dashboard. But the numbers are deceiving, the local health department says.

“Preliminary reports from all the partnering agencies currently providing vaccinations indicate that an estimated 24,700 persons have been vaccinated in Shelby County,” Haushalter said on Wednesday.

“However, all those vaccinations have not yet been entered into the Tennessee Department of Health’s vaccination database called TennIIS.”

State vaccinating at one of best rates in country despite local obstacles

The dashboard, updated on Tuesdays and Fridays, currently shows Shelby County with a vaccination rate of 1.28%, the second lowest in the state.

If all the data were represented, the percentage would be 2.6%. The state average is 2.9%.

The state Department of Health did not immediately respond to questions about the backlog.

Drive-thru vaccine sites closed for now

The state announced the dashboard Dec. 18 as a tool to help the public see how the vaccination campaign is progressing. It breaks out statewide immunizations by the day and week and includes a breakdown of percentage of people who have received the shot by age and ethnicity.

It also shows the percentage vaccinated in each county. Future versions will show the number Tennesseans who have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The dashboard also shows how many shots were given in health care settings and by public health departments, although not by county. It also does not indicate how much vaccine a county received or long it took for it to be distributed.

The state Health Department confirmed availability varies by county.

“Counties may progress through COVID-19 vaccination phases at different times depending on supplies of COVID-19 vaccines and interest in receiving them,” spokesman Bill Christian said in an email.

Many health departments across the state began administering vaccine on Dec. 21. Shelby County waited until after Christmas.

About 25% of the shots on the dashboard given by health departments statewide through Jan. 4 were administered before the Shelby County Health Department began administering them.

But county officials say those numbers mean little if there are not more doses on the way.

“I just don’t know what else you can do but use the vaccine you receive,” Harris said.


coronavirus Shelby County Health Department
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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