Doctor’s offices, new appt. system to help speed local vaccination efforts

By , Daily Memphian Updated: March 12, 2021 8:42 AM CT | Published: March 11, 2021 12:44 PM CT

Next week, a whole new batch of vaccination sites will open, including in dialysis centers and small clinics, as vaccination becomes more “normalized” in Shelby County, officials say.

“There are more than 100 qualified providers who can do vaccinations across Shelby County,” City of Memphis COO Doug McGowen said Thursday, March 11. “We made an allocation to 50 providers yesterday. Next week, 14,000 (doses) will go to those 50 providers.”

By late this week, the City of Memphis plans to release a map of all the sites, including pop-up clinics the city is using to distribute vaccine in harder-to-reach areas.

“It’s becoming more normalized for access points, and that’s in addition to the existing Walmart pharmacy, the CVS pharmacy, as well as some of the community clinics,” he said.

Tonight, Shelby County transitions to VRAS, the statewide portal for scheduling vaccine appointments. Besides collecting more demographic information on the front end, which shortens the process at the vaccination site, the portal allows users to schedule first and second doses simultaneously. It also will show users the vaccination sites closest to them.

“That may be one of our fixed sites; it may also be at one of these other pharmacies that’s offering public vaccination, or maybe through a community clinic that’s offering vaccinations,” McGowen said.

People may also register ahead of time in VRAS and get a reminder when its their turn to be vaccinated.

Phone-based appointments will continue to be taken through 901-222-SHOT. But instead of local agents from the Shelby County Health Department, the calls will go to a state call center where 750 agents will be taking appointments every day of the week.

By the close of Thursday, Shelby County will have administered 200,000 COVID-19 vaccines.

Last week, more than 32,600 shots were given; this week the number is expected to surpass 35,000 as other vaccine partners have come on board.

“One of the things I want to make clear is that we not only are counting the specific numbers, but we’re also tracking the data about who and where people are receiving the vaccine,” McGowen said.

With that data, the city has identified the 10 ZIP codes with the lowest participation, and is filling in those gaps with pop-up sites, open a day or two, to give a high volume of shots.

Uptake has been low in Frayser, Parkway Village and Hickory Hill. To help, a clinic will run Friday at Greater Community Temple, 5151 Winchester Road, and Friday and Saturday at the Memphis Fire Academy, 4341 Robertson Road.

Shelby County is scheduled to receive only Pfizer and Moderna for several weeks as it works through a backlog of inventory. A supply of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine could be here in a week or so.

“It’s really about the allocation across the state and making sure that everyone has about the same amount per capita of vaccine available to administer,” McGowen said. 

“But you’ve heard lots of news about J & J production going up significantly up. I think we’re not going to have to wait much longer than after next week to begin receiving that.”

But in the next 10 days or so, the city also intends to administer 4,000 doses in pop-ups in Frayser.

Mass vaccine clinic coming to South Third

In the meantime, health officials are stressing the importance of testing, particularly as the incidence of variant strains rises.

The University of Memphis on Thursday said it had a cluster of 29 U.K. variant cases in February that were contained through strict contact tracing.

The county has 17,000 weekly testing slots available. Every week, only a quarter to a third are used. With spring travel now beginning, officials are stressing the importance of knowing one’s status, the first step in controlling the virus.

When the city took over the vaccination program, about 20% of the total vaccinated population was African American. This week, the percentage ticked up to 30%, which city officials says is a reflection of the shots being given in Whitehaven and Raleigh.

Vaccine appointments available for pop-up Frayser site

Now in the 1c category, which includes people 16 and up with underlying conditions, the city is bracing for what will be its largest population of shot-takers. Demand at all the sites is strong, and city officials expect it will continue to be for weeks.

Still, large segments of earlier categories have not been vaccinated, including 60% of people in Shelby County who are ages 65-74. Men have been slow to get in line. Up to 63% of the vaccine here so far has gone to women.

“So, gentlemen, it’s time; we need to come out and get our shots,” McGowen said.


COVID-19 COVID-19 vaccination Doug McGowen
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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