City takes charge of vaccination sites, eyeing 40,000 in arms this week

By , Daily Memphian Updated: February 24, 2021 9:51 AM CT | Published: February 23, 2021 7:11 PM CT

In short order, the city of Memphis intends to be administering 40,000 to 50,000 COVID vaccine doses a week, three or four times the current level, and doing it quickly and efficiently.

It is investigating a large student-run call center at the University of Memphis for managing phone appointments and within weeks, will be taking online appointments through a state-run system that will simultaneously schedule first and second doses.

Number of wasted doses higher than previously reported

“The city of Memphis soberly accepts this responsibility. We do not take it lightly,” Mayor Jim Strickland told reporters late Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 23.

“Our mission of vaccinating as many people as possible as quickly as we can is critical to keep the virus under control and to get back to normal as soon as possible.”

<strong>Jim Strickland</strong>

Jim Strickland

The city took over management of the Pipkin Building site Tuesday from county government after a series of mishaps there. The city will also manage the Greater Imani Cathedral of Faith site at 3824 Austin Peay in Raleigh on top of the Appling City Cove site, which it has been running with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center for more than a month without long lines or acrimony.

Shelby County commissioners met in a closed attorney-client meeting with county attorneys late Tuesday.

The meeting was about the state’s decision to change the county’s role in vaccine distribution. No other details about that meeting were available late Tuesday.

The city will be a member of a team in charge of getting doses out now. Partners include Christ Community Health Services, Church Health Center and other community clinics, hospitals and existing partners, such as the City of Germantown and Southwest Tennessee Community College.

On Tuesday, the Tennessee Department of Health transferred custody of the vaccine supply to hospitals after it documented gross mismanagement by the Shelby County Health Department and its contract pharmacy.

County Commissioners grill Health Department over vaccine missteps, confusion

More than 2,400 doses were left to expire on seven separate occasions. It also had 51,000 doses in inventory, including 30,000 that should have been administered already.

Those doses, which will expire in early March, are going out this week in what is expected to be a massive effort to inoculate 40,000 people, including some 10,000 teachers.

Next week, the Shelby County will receive 13,700 first doses.

One of the questions for the new team in charge, said Doug McGowen, City of Memphis chief operating officer, is how to portion the supply per partner to best cover the county, including doses for private pharmacies and health clinics.

“This is about accountability, transparency and tracking our performance,” he said. “We are doing that today at the sites that we operate.

<strong>Doug McGowen</strong>

Doug McGowen

“We will report out on a regular basis the number of clients that we are seeing based on the number of appointments, the number of doses that we’ve administered and time to wait,” McGowen said. “We think that is critically important for individuals who need access.”

The city will use an existing partnership to store vaccine doses, McGowen said, and could also use the Memphis Fire Department.

“The City of Memphis has infection control officers who are trained and responsible for accountability, inventory and tracking of those doses as well as their safe transport to and from remote sites,” he said.

The city will expand those operations through agreements with the other partners, he said, to ensure sufficient inventory and climate control for each vaccine.

Coronavirus: 0 deaths reported in last 24 hours

By mid-March, when Pfizer’s increased production kicks in and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has potentially received emergency-use authorization, the county could be receiving 30,000 to 40,000 doses a week.

That, McGowen said, is “where we need to be in order to get people vaccinated by this summer.”

What citizens should immediately notice, Strickland said, is efficient in-and-out at the sites, although at least for a few more weeks, they will be signing up through the SignUpGenius site. 

At Pipkin on Tuesday, waits early in the day were about an hour, said Tiffany Collins, city deputy director of General Services and the point person on city-run vaccination sites.

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“We’ve seen the wait time average about 20 minutes,” Collins said Tuesday afternoon. “And if you were there now, there’s likely no line, no wait. We vaccinated over 800 people, and it’s 4 o’clock.”

Pipkin had 1,200 appointments Tuesday, she said, “and we’re limiting the average wait time from hours on end to less than a half hour.”

The city and University of Tennessee Health Science Center have jointly been running the Appling City Cove site since mid-January without long lines or having to turn people away.

The partners early on said people could arrive only one hour before appointments. If they were earlier, they were turned away. Appointments were checked; people without them were not let in.

The Appling operation also engages with people in the line to get information for the vaccine so those delays are not happening inside the former vehicle inspection station.

It’s not clear if the city will be in charge of more sites, including smaller pop-up sites, Strickland said.

More than 6,000 SCS employees set to receive vaccines this week

“What we are trying to do is make it a seamless transition over the next week to 10 days, properly administer the doses at the three locations that we run and work with the state,” he said.

The vaccination system until this point has been led by the Shelby County Health Department, an agency of county government.

Strickland chose his words carefully when asked how he felt when he heard about the number of wasted doses.

“I’m obviously disappointed. I don’t fully understand all the reasons,” he said.

Last week, Health Department director Alisa Haushalter said 1,300 doses had been wasted. The state Tuesday said the actual number was 2,400.

Besides the scale of the loss, Strickland says the city now has “to get its arms around how many doses are in inventory and get those shots in arms as soon as we can.”

State looking into why, how doses expired

James Dixon, a citizen, says Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, “in my opinion, has failed all of Shelby County residents.

“Why has it taken so long to remove Shelby County Health Department from the vaccine process?” he asked in an email.

Strickland said he was “really concerned” about whether the city should have been asked to step in earlier.

“What we are trying to do together is make sure operations go smoothly in the future. It’s still a team effort. The Health Department still has some role. They are still the leader in the pandemic overall,” Strickland said.



Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland Doug McGowen Tiffany Collins
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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