Now being vaccinated: Locals 45 and up

By , Daily Memphian Updated: March 23, 2021 6:17 PM CT | Published: March 23, 2021 12:46 PM CT

The City of Memphis began vaccinating people 45 and up Tuesday, March 23, days after it moved to cover people 55 and over as it works to fill in its slate of appointments.

For weeks, about 15% of appointments here have gone wanting either because people signed up and didn’t show, which accounts for about 10% or 3,040 slots, or appointments (5%) simply haven’t been filling.

Here’s everywhere you can get a COVID-19 vaccine in the Memphis area

That was the signal to move ahead to the next phase, said Doug McGowen, chief operating officer for the City of Memphis and the point person in charge of vaccine efficiency in Shelby County.

By next Friday, the city will be administering shots to any person 16 and over, a day many have been waiting to arrive. Appointments for those slots open this Friday, March 26.

But full access to all adults will happen before the city receives a significant increase in doses, which means appointments are going to be tight.

“And so, I’ll ask for a little patience,” McGowen said, noting that May 1 is the date President Joe Biden has said all adults who want a shot should be able to get one.

“We’re accelerating that locally and in the state,” he said.

Shortly after Easter, perhaps by April 5 or 6, the doses for Shelby County will jump from 40,000 a week to more than 50,000. The bulk will be administered through the five fixed drive-thru stations, but pop-ups, some with capacity to deliver 2,000 doses, will extend availability.

It will not be enough to accommodate every adult who wants the vaccine in a week or even a month, McGowen said.

As of Tuesday, nearly 260,000 doses have been given in Shelby County since the campaign began three months ago. At least one shot has gone into 177,191 arms toward the Health Department’s goal of 655,900 people, 70% of the county’s population.

Going into Easter weekend, starting April 2, the county is expected to surpass the 300,000 mark.

To prepare for the bump in appointments, the state is doubling operators at its call center for people who call 901-222-SHOT.

“We have been working with SignUpGenius to make sure that the platform is stable and that we have enough bandwidth there to absorb the number of appointments,” he said.

Last week, in addition to the City of Memphis administering more than 30,000 doses, hospitals delivered 5,000 doses. This week the city is delivering 30,000 through fixed sites; 8,000 doses will be administered though health partners, which now include clinics, dialysis centers and pharmacies.

A pop-up site will open this weekend at Melrose High School in Orange Mound. Next week, pop-ups will serve Parkway Village and Oakhaven, Frayser and North Memphis, South Memphis and Whitehaven. 

Vaccine uptake in rural counties surrounding Shelby County continues to be low, in some cases, about 20% of appointments are taken.

As the U.K. variant rises, which is at least twice as contagious, the whole region is in race to get people vaccinated.

Frequency of local UK variant doubles to 30% in weeks

“Our hospitals are running between 100 and 150 patients with COVID, but our hospitals don’t just serve Shelby County,” said David Sweat, deputy director of the Shelby County Health Department. “They serve North Mississippi, western Tennessee, eastern Arkansas, even as far up into southeastern Missouri and western Kentucky. 

“We are the medical center for the region,” he said. “We will be the receiver of the problem in our hospitals, if people don’t take the vaccine.”

To achieve herd immunity, most experts say it will require 70% of the population to be vaccinated or otherwise immune.

That, Sweat says, means every county needs to achieve a 70% vaccination rate “in order for the transmission to really become more difficult for the virus in the region. So we certainly, if you can hear our voice, we would say please go get vaccinated if you are eligible,” he said in the task force briefing Tuesday.

“We have a broad catchment area,” he said. “We will continue to see cases if we don’t see herd immunity in the whole region.”

“Every county around us also needs to achieve 70% of their population being vaccinated,” Sweat said. “… This is how we get out of pandemic, to get herd immunity through vaccination.”

Last week, the virus’ reproductive rate rose to 1 for the first time this calendar year.

“We are growing the epidemic, not shrinking it anymore,” he said, most likely due to the U.K. variant.


coronavirus vaccine 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 business news and features for The Daily Memphian.