Health Dept. expects to announce COVID-19 vaccine openings in ‘upcoming days’

By , Daily Memphian Updated: January 14, 2021 4:12 PM CT | Published: January 14, 2021 12:42 PM CT

The Shelby County Health Department expects to make new appointments for February vaccines in “upcoming days,” but there is no word yet on when the priority list will include people 65 and older or how much more vaccine may be available under the Biden administration.

In the meantime, the Health Department intends to vaccinate nearly 800 people a day through January at the Pipkin Building drive-thru site and is finishing legal approvals for other sites, including a permanent location in Whitehaven.

Even these plans are dependent on receiving an increase in vaccine doses.

“It really is about supply,” Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter said Thursday, Jan. 14. “It’s not only knowing how much our supply is but predictability on when we’ll receive it, and then having appointments accordingly.”

Some counties in Tennessee are already vaccinating people 65 and older. It is not happening in Shelby County because there are still thousands of others in higher-priority categories waiting on appointments, including people 75 and older.

All appointment slots for January are booked.

“We’re monitoring supply and demand, and trying to advocate, as much as we can, to the state for increased supply so that we can get through those early phases much quicker,” Haushalter said.

Shelby County’s updated vaccination schedule

Questions are still pouring in about how 8,900 doses Shelby County has been promised per week for the rest of the month are being allocated. 

About half went to local hospitals this week in the campaign to get health care workers vaccinated. The Health Department is concentrating on people who qualify under priority 1a1.

Walgreens and CVS are beginning to receive vaccine through a separate federal allocation, which was made to cover people in nursing homes that signed on with those pharmacies.

Hundreds of people who got shots without appointments at Lindenwood Church the week of Dec. 28 worry they will be no way to schedule them for their second doses.

The Health Department has said repeatedly it will make announcements. Thursday, it said they would go out through all its communications channels: the COVID-19 website, news releases, and its Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts.

Haushalter also says there is not enough data yet to say equity has been an issue, largely because there is not demographic data on the people who qualify for the vaccine under category 1a1.

“What I can say is that we know long term, we have to put mechanisms in place to assure equal access and that people have information to make an informed decision,” she said.

Through Jan. 7, 1.6% (142 doses) of the vaccine had been given to people who reported being Hispanic, according to Shelby County Health Department data. White people had received 51.9% of the vaccine (5,417 doses); Black people had received 24.4% (2,548 doses).

Part of the battle is getting information to different population groups through the media or in a manner most conducive to each group, so no group gets an advantage.

For instance, 24 hours after the Health Department announced its online signup link Friday, Jan. 8, all appointments through Feb. 1 were taken.

The phone system for taking appointments was not intended to be used until Monday morning, Jan. 11. Health Department staff answered and made appointments Saturday, but by that afternoon, there were no slots left.

It spent Monday sorting through duplicated online appointments and giving the extra to eligible people who left phone messages.

Going forward, it will use data it has on disease burden and social vulnerability as guides on where vaccine clinics will need to operate. It will also work in conjunction with commodity food distribution programs to cover those recipients.

The department is finding that a solution to one problem creates new equity issues.

Even requiring people to show a driver’s license to prove they are 75 or older, so people won’t “cut in line” as some did at the Lindenwood church site in late December, creates some inequity.

“The truth is, that also serves as a barrier to some people who may not have a driver’s license,” Haushalter said. “So that’s a change that we need to make so that everyone knows that they’re welcome to get the vaccine” if they fall in the priority category. 

The department continues to work on its own app that will allow people to sign up for extra doses at the end of the day. Updates on that are expected soon.

So far, there have not been leftover doses. Neither are there doses sitting on a shelf anywhere in the county, she said.

Early shot-takers praise compassion, can-do efficiency at Pipkin

She was also asked about Shelby County’s vaccination pace. According to the state vaccine dashboard, Shelby County had vaccinated 1.89% of its population by Monday, Jan. 11, the lowest percentage in the state.

“I would not say we are slower,” she said. “It takes us longer to get through each phase because we have more people.

“It is just the reality of it: We have X number of doses, and thousands upon thousands of people to vaccinate.”

As of Monday, Jan. 11, Shelby County had given 24,195 vaccines, 3.7% of the goal of 656,000 shots to achieve 70% herd immunity.

Shelby County Health Department has two COVID-19 phone numbers: (901) 222-MASK (6275) is for people who need information about the coronavirus or wish to file a complaint; (901) 222-SHOT (7468) can be used to set up an appointment to be vaccinated when appointments are again available.


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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