Transition complete; city in charge of vaccination

By , Daily Memphian Updated: February 26, 2021 9:43 AM CT | Published: February 25, 2021 12:52 PM CT

The City of Memphis took over vaccinations operations early Thursday morning after 24 hours of building a network to do it.

“I want to be clear, our new role in the COVID-19 vaccination process is strictly about distribution. The county Health Department is still in charge of public health decisions, such as whether we should move from one phase to the other,” said Mayor Jim Strickland. 

“I want to publicly thank the county Health Department and Mayor (Lee) Harris who worked so closely the last two days and through the process.”

City Chief Operating Officer Doug McGowen is in charge of accountability for the city. Deputy of accountability is Fire Department Director Gina Sweat.

EMS Deputy Chief Angie Shelton is in charge of managing vaccine inventory and getting it efficiently distributed to the vaccination pods.

Battalion Chief Jason Stuart will head up accessibility, making sure the online appointment system is easy to use and works and that people without internet have access by phone. 

The other leader is Tiffany Collins, deputy director of General Services for the city; she will contain and oversee operations at all the sites.

“It’s been a busy 24 hours, transitioning what is a demanding, detail-oriented, heavily accountable process of accepting vaccinations from the federal government, keeping accountability of those doses as they go out to the sites and putting a distribution plan in place is a gargantuan task,” McGowen said.

The vaccine is being stored in 15 super-cold freezers at Regional One Health, including eight flown in from around the state late Wednesday on Blackhawk helicopters.

“By the end of the day, we had all the tools that were necessary for us to deliver the vaccine this morning,” McGowen said.

“It is a complex process; it is one we are earnest about getting right. I am accountable to all of you for executing. And we take that responsibility very seriously,” he said.

Early Thursday, the Memphis Fire Department and other partners transported in cold storage 6,750 doses to the eight sites, from Raleigh to Germantown.

“All these sites were well underway this morning, and started on time with minor interruption,” Strickland said. “We are living in unprecedented times, and everyone is trying to work through this as quickly and efficiently as we can, but to be honest with you, it’s a little like jumping on a moving train, taking over as conductor and learning how to drive, all at the same time.”

This week, the goal is to administer 30,000 to 40,000 doses, depleting inventory enough that the city is able to accept new doses for next week.

“We are planning to administer roughly 17,000 first doses and almost 13,000 second doses, Monday through Saturday, next week,” Strickland said.

People make appointments here

Citizens will not need to do anything differently for next week. They will still use SignUpGenius links to register. 

A new signup system is coming that will allow people to coordinate first and second doses simultaneously.

Besides implementing firm appointment checks and not allowing people in line more than an hour before their slots, the city is bearing down on metrics for estimating the next day’s need.

To make sure it does not thaw more doses than it can use, the team will verify appointments in the queue for the following day and get a read, based on the current day’s flow, what doses may be left at the end of the shift.

By 2 p.m. the team will let Regional One know how many to thaw for the next day, McGowen said.

Part of the state indictment of the Shelby County Health Department is that it wasted a total of 2,400 doses in seven separate incidents, including 700 that were tossed after one day.

This week, the city is continuing the plan to get teachers vaccinated, including allotting doses for the 6,000 Shelby County Schools and charter school teachers who have said they want the vaccine. Those doses are going in through Friday, Feb. 26. Another 1,500 will be given Friday to teachers in the northeast suburbs. Those 7,500 doses will complete the first-dose cycle for these districts.

Next week, 1,400 doses will be given to Collierville and Germantown teachers, completing their first round. Independent schools, including those run by the Diocese of Memphis, are getting their doses through local health care systems.

McGowen expects it will take about 1,000 more doses to cover all the teachers in the county; the goal is to have them done in the next week or two.

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Mayor Jim Strickland Doug McGowen vaccines
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 healthcare and higher education for The Daily Memphian.

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