Pop-up sites critical to provide access to vaccine

By , Daily Memphian Updated: March 09, 2021 9:40 PM CT | Published: March 09, 2021 12:40 PM CT

Shelby County, like counties across the nation, is on the precipice of much larger vaccination campaigns as supply begins to flow more freely.

The county is scheduled to receive 20,000 first doses per week for several weeks and then jump up in quantity as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine becomes more readily available.

To build capacity, the City of Memphis expects to run five or six fixed vaccination sites plus one or two pop-up locations in neighborhoods where access is an issue.

On Wednesdays of each week, the city data team will be looking at the demographics, including ZIP code, of where shots are being received.

Fully vaccinated, small groups can gather without masks, says CDC

“We will evaluate that data, and then we will work with the partners who come forward saying they would like to host a pod,” said Doug McGowen, the city’s chief operating officer and point person in the campaign to smoothly and efficiently run vaccination centers.

Based on the data, the pop-up sites, open for a day or two, will be located in parts of town with the lowest percentage of vaccination.

So far, some 100 groups, including churches, have expressed interest in running pop-up locations. The groups need to show they can attract 500 to 1,000 people for shots, he said.

The city is working to establish a homebound network to cover people too fragile to leave home or without transportation.

“Our teams are working together with the Shelby County Office of Community Services, Housing, Community Development and the Memphis Fire Department,” McGowen said, to build the networks that will include a process for vaccinating people who are homeless.

So far, Shelby County is receiving several 100-dose shipments of Johnson & Johnson vaccine per week, and they are being turned over to hospitals to administer to specific populations. When the supply rises, the J & J vaccine will be targeted to groups who may have access issues or may be difficult for them to return for a second dose.

Getting people to return is already an issue, although there is not enough evidence yet to know if people are choosing not to get a second dose or got it somewhere else.

This week, for instance, the city had 3,600 doses ready for second shots, based on first-shot data from three weeks ago. When only 1,400 people signed up, the city had to pivot, McGowen said, and offer more first-dose appointments at Pipkin and other sites.

By fanning vaccine out to clinics and other trusted partners, including Christ Community Health Services, the city is hoping those credible voices will increase uptake.

More than 32,000 vaccines were administered last week, McGowen said. The City of Memphis plans to maintain a pace of 32,000 to 42,000 shots per week for the next four weeks.

Next week, the city will offer a new system for making appointments, which will allow people to schedule first and second doses simultaneously.

McGowen expects that will provide better information for how much to thaw for second doses and improve the numbers of people who get their second doses.

Vaccines are available at five fixed sites in high-traffic areas; each is doing a minimum of 1,000 inoculations per day. 

Locally, hospitals have administered more than 65,000 vaccines, the bulk of the doses given so far.

Fully vaccinated, small groups can gather without masks, says CDC

Although the vaccine campaign is the major focus, testing is still critical, particularly as families travel for spring break or gather in a few weeks for Easter and Passover. 

“When it comes to finding variant strains, testing is the necessary step because without people getting tested using a PCR test, we would not have any material to work with and sequencing to detect variant strains,” said David Sweat, deputy director of the Shelby County Health Department.

“It remains a vital important step in the process for people to go out and get tested, especially if you’re having any signs and symptoms of a respiratory illness.”

The county has 15,000 testing slots each week. 

Mass-testing clinics this weekend are planned Saturday morning at Iglesia Bella Vista Church, 700 N. Highland, and all day on both Saturday and Sunday at Poplar Healthcare, 3495 Hacks Cross Road.

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coronavirus Doug McGowen David Sweat
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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