State to begin vaccinating elderly next month

By , Daily Memphian Updated: January 02, 2021 9:18 PM CT | Published: December 30, 2020 1:40 PM CT
<strong>Assisted living and skilled nursing residents from Trezevant Manor wave to family members, who paraded by them in April</strong>. (Houston Cofield/Special To The Daily Memphian)

Assisted living and skilled nursing residents from Trezevant Manor wave to family members, who paraded by them in April. (Houston Cofield/Special To The Daily Memphian)

A day after seniors swarmed two sites in Shelby County to get vaccines specifically set aside for first responders, the state Department of Health upgraded its priority list on Wednesday, Dec. 30.


Age 75, older now eligible for vaccine as it becomes available


People age 75 and over across the state will now get the COVID-19 vaccine in January. 

The Shelby County Health Departments’ two vaccination sites at Lindenwood Christian Church, 2400 Union Ave., and its offices at 1826 Sycamore View Road will be open all day Friday, Jan 1.

But it will only be vaccinating medical workers, first responders and others in Category 1a1, it said.

By February and March, the state’s 1.1 million residents who are 65 and older will become eligible. By the second quarter of the year, people who are 55 and older will be able to get the vaccine, according to the state Health Department.


Tennessee moves up teachers on priority list for COVID-19 vaccine


By the third or fourth quarter, the state expects to be able to provide vaccine to the 5.4 million residents who are 16 to 25.

All the of the timelines are contingent on vaccine supply. Shelby County is one of 29 Tennessee counties that have received extra doses based a statewide social vulnerability index.

The updated priority list was issued Wednesday, Dec. 30. 

The new guidelines include home health care workers in Category 1a1, the highest phase that was originally reserved for health care workers with direct contact with COVID patients. It now also includes people 18 and older who cannot live alone based on chronic medical condition or intellectual/developmental disability.

Funeral and mortuary workers also moved higher in the new priorities. They, plus outpatient lab staff working with COVID-19 specimens, are now in Category 1a2 and are expected to get their vaccines in January. 

Ford Canale, one of the owners of Canale Funeral Directors, is excited and grateful.

“It seems of late that every other death we have is COVID positive,” he said in a text late Wednesday. “Since we are a small, family-owned business, we come in close contact with those decedents.”

The family wants to serve, he said. “But we would not be able to do that if we were all infected.”

Based on the disproportionate toll the pandemic has taken on education, K-12 teachers and child care workers are also being moved up. They now are scheduled to receive their shots in February and March.

People as young as 16 who have been diagnosed with any of 11 chronic conditions, including chronic liver disease, obesity, diabetes, dementia or being treated for cancer, have moved to Category 1c. Their shots will begin in March.

“I think the approach the state is taking is reasonable,” said Dr. Scott Strome, executive dean of the College of Medicine at University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

“I’m glad the elderly are getting bumped up. If you look at who is most likely to get sick and die, it’s the elderly and people with co-morbidities, particularly obesity, heart disease and diabetes.”

The state last updated its vaccine priority list on Dec. 2.

Strome expects the priorities will continue to shift, noting that special interest groups and science itself continue to push.

“Each group is going to come back with its own reasons,” he said. “I’m glad I don’t have to be the judge of all those arguments. For me, what matters first is taking care of the health care workers so we can take care of people when they get sick, and then, it’s looking at people with the greatest risk.”

Nursing home residents and staff, covered under 1a1, will begin mass vaccinations in January. More than 30,000 doses statewide have been allocated to Walgreens and CVS. They will start vaccinating on Monday, Jan. 4.

People who work in critical infrastructure fields, such as social services, commercial agriculture, commercial food production, corrections and public transit, are now scheduled to get their shots sometime in the second quarter.

They will be followed by transportation workers, including postal employees, people who work in and maintain public infrastructure, telecommunications and the utility/energy sector.

The decisions, the state said, are based on risk – with an eye on equity – as it pertains to the integrity of the health care infrastructure, individual health and the state’s economy and society.

The state’s plan differs from those proposed by federal agencies in several ways, including that Tennessee divided Phase 1a into two categories. One is primarily for in-patient health care providers, first responders and staff, and residents of long-term care facilities. The second is primarily for those working in outpatient settings. 

Another example is that K-12 teachers and child care staff now rank higher. Vaccinating them, the state Health Department says, also helps parents of school-age children stay in the workforce, which it says is critical to the economy.

But in later phases that will roll out this spring, Tennessee’s critical workforce is more limited than other places due to scarcity in the early supply of vaccine.

Shelby County, which has about 80,000 people in the 1a1 category alone, was allotted a small fraction of that number in doses, says Jeff Warren, a physician and member of the Memphis City Council and the COVID-19 Task Force.

That, he said, made the mass run on vaccines reserved for first responders Tuesday worrisome.

“All of a sudden, people starting calling people, and it blew up on social media,” he said.

City and county leadership, Warren said, were displeased with the run on testing sites. The Health Department, which organized and staffed the drive-thru testing sites, initially did not limit who was allowed to be vaccinated.

The Health Department expected to vaccinate 700 people on Tuesday, based on appointments first responders and others made through the Health Department’s scheduling app. The final number was more than twice that at 1,692 people.

It did not say how many were not authorized. 

“It was an error,” Warren said, noting that everything about this process is new, including the team giving the shots.

“The vaccination team has now been educated,” Warren said.

Part of the problem, he said, is that state regulations said no one was to be turned away from the shot sites.

“That makes sense in Dyer County where you maybe have 15 first responders. But here, that is not the case.”

Strome’s phone was jammed with calls and texts as lines of cars wrapped around both sites at Lindenwood in Midtown and the Health Department offices on Sycamore View.

“It was like a run on the bank. Everyone just starting showing up. I get it; people are scared,” he said.

“There is literally something out there that can prevent this disease in most people and probably prevent the severe disease in almost everyone. And they want it,” Strome said. “I think that’s great, but we have to be a little patient so we can roll it out.”

After reading comments on news coverage of the dash, he also says the public has to find some patience for the process.

“No one has done this before. It’s not going to be perfect, and that has to be OK,” Strome said.

“Please, people, it’s not because the Health Department is not trying. We are trying to vaccinate 1.6 million people in Shelby County. There needs to be a little flexibility and understanding.”

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Topics

coronavirus Breaking news Dr. Scott Strome Dr. Jeff Warren Ford Can
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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