Pipkin Building will be vaccination site through early summer

By , Daily Memphian Updated: January 06, 2021 10:55 AM CT | Published: January 05, 2021 12:42 PM CT

When supplies of vaccine stabilize, the Pipkin Building at the former Mid-South Fairgrounds will be open for shots through June, eliminating the quandary for many who were vaccinated last week and don’t know where second doses will be given.

The Shelby County Health Department, which received about 12,000 doses of vaccine in December, this week is vaccinating residents and staff of long-term care facilities and other congregate living spaces.

In seven days last week, it vaccinated more than 9,500 people.

There are currently no spots open to people in the general public who are 75 or older.

The Health Department expects it could take a year to vaccinate 70% of the more than 950,000 people who live in the county. The size of the endeavor will dwarf COVID testing because not only do the state and county have to rely on the limited national supply of serum, but the vaccines currently approved by the FDA require two doses.

To put in perspective, over the 10 months of the epidemic, Shelby County has collected and processed 850,000 COVID tests, helped by the fact that local labs were able to expand their processing or, in the case of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, develop a test.

That will not be possible with the vaccine.

“The vaccine is not available for the public at our pharmacies,” Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said Tuesday, Jan. 5, at the task force briefing. “And so all of us are really at the mercy during this process of the national supply chain.”

The supply chain hinges on the ability of pharmaceutical manufacturers to scale up production. But it also could be greatly affected if other vaccines are approved.

The vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson is next in the pipeline ready to seek emergency-use approval. It could be a game-changer because it requires only one dose.

“If that happens, we may be able to cut our vaccination process in half,” Harris said. “So, there’s light at the end of the tunnel; there are reasons to be hopeful, and we are working really hard to get all this done.

“But we do need to recognize that this tunnel is long and it is likely to have twists along the way, and it will require all of us to make adjustments.”

For now, Tennessee is slated to receive 90,000 doses a week. At that rate, it would take more than more two years to vaccinate all 6.3 million state residents.

The issue for Alisa Haushalter, director of the Shelby County Health Department, is not being able to count on a set amount of vaccine being delivered each week.

Last week, the department was prepared to administer 3,000 doses. By the end of the week, it had received 9,000 additional doses.

“I would wish for two things,” she said. “One is more predictability. As a member of the public myself, it’s very difficult to plan.”

Her second wish is for more vaccine. 

Health Dept: Current COVID-19 vaccines earmarked for congregate living

“I believe if we had a larger supply and could predict that supply, as partners we could come together and vaccinate a larger number of people. And while 9,500 is a pretty hefty feat, we still need to get to well over a million injections given to get the first and second dose in,” Haushalter said.

“We need to be able to bring this to scale, and being able to have a larger volume would allow us to do that in a more timely manner,” she said.

Your coronavirus vaccine questions answered

To get predictability, she has asked the state to allocate 7,000 doses a week to Shelby County. 

In its daily press release at 10 a.m., the Health Department is sharing when and where it is giving vaccine and whether the sites are open to the public.

She said it will take wide participation across the community to achieve the vaccination goals.

“The Health Department has a part to play, but so do health care systems, pharmacies, private providers and so on,” she said.

Shelby County’s updated vaccination schedule

Because the serum can only be in the syringe six hours, the Health Department has organized networks of health-care workers and other high-priority groups that can mobilize quickly to get vaccine that was drawn but not used in that day’s schedule. Mortuary and funeral workers got the notice last week.

To make sure there is equity in how the vaccine is distributed, the Health Department must provide sites across the city that could be open a few days or weeks to saturate a neighborhood.

“We are working with a variety of partners to identify various community sites to be able to do pop-up or roving vaccine sites so that we can reach everyone who wants to have access to the vaccine,” she said.

The Pipkin Building, 940 Early Maxwell, was set up last spring to be a drop-off center for ambulance patients when emergency rooms were full and offload times ran into hours, as they have dozens of times in the last three months. The center was packed up for a career fair last fall and was not re-assembled, although Memphis Fire Department command staff have said several times it could be operational within a day.

The shortage of nurses has pummeled several contingency plans, including for now, any immediate plans to open the alternate care facility at the former Commercial Appeal building. 

Second Dose

The Health Department expects to have sufficient supply of vaccine to administer second doses. People will be alerted where to go to get them.

“It’s critical to keep the card people got at the time of (vaccination),” Haushalter said.

She encourages people to sign up for V-safe, which includes text messages from the Centers for Disease Control for reporting vaccination side effects and alerts about when to get the second dose. 

Locally, the Shelby community site is updated daily. The Health Department is also investigating using its own text messaging system.

Tuesday, employees at Methodist-Germantown Hospital began lining up for their second doses of the vaccine. Dr. Michael Threlkeld received his first injection 19 days ago.

“I’m excited to get the vaccine. I’m around lots of COVID patients and I am looking forward to having what I hope is protective immunity so I don’t have to worry about getting sick while I am trying to do my job,” he said.

Methodist Le Bonheur has vaccinated more than 6,000 of its workers, including 1,500 at Methodist-Germantown.

“As we see more and more of the associates and providers get vaccinated, more of the associates are wanting to get vaccinated too,” said Anna Lopez, chief operating officer. “Now, we are seeing a second run of first doses going again. 

“We’ve put a lot of processes in place, and it actually has gone very, very well.”

Where the virus ranks in cause of death

So, far, 70,532 people in the county have been diagnosed with COVID-19, including 390 cases reported early Tuesday, Jan. 5. The county has experienced 945 COVID deaths. At 5 p.m. on Jan. 4, 615 COVID patients were hospitalized in the county.

COVID is still behind heart disease (2,061 deaths in 2019) and cancer (more than 1,700 deaths in 2019) for mortality rates in Shelby County.

But COVID has now surpassed unintentional injuries, which include motor vehicle fatalities, poisoning and falls, as the third-leading cause of death in the county (576 deaths in 2019).

At the current level, COVID accounts for more than 10% of deaths in Shelby County, five times more than the 173 who died of complications from influenza in 2019.

“COVID-19 is five times more lethal than influenza,” said David Sweat, chief epidemiologist at the Health Department.

“That just helps you put it in context what we’re all going through and what we’re trying to prevent.”

Economic recovery

On Wednesday, the County Commission will consider a proposal to aid restaurants and their workers. Restaurants and bars are limited to 25% of dine-in capacity until at least Jan. 22 under the latest Health Directive No. 16.

Leading the effort are Commissioners Tami Sawyer and Eddie Jones.

The county has just finished a $110,000 funding effort for local live theaters and stages, which are closed. Recipients include the Collierville Arts Council, Hattiloo Theater and Growlers Concert Hall.


Businesses that are serving food to stay open must have a permit to serve food, and those that have permits must actually be serving food. Any establishments serving alcohol must serve food.

People cannot be congregating around physical bars in restaurants. There is also no indoor smoking allowed. Restaurants must stop serving at 10 p.m. and close at 10:30 p.m.

“The last thing I want to say is that entertainment venues, where primarily your business is entertainment or recreation, you’re closed unless you provide food,” said Dr. Bruce Randolph, the Health Department’s health officer. “It is the food or restaurant component that currently we are allowing to operate. 

“Enforcement is still a major priority for us. Though we have the vaccine, until we get a 70% immunization rate, we still must adhere and rely on the safety measures we have in place,” Randolph said, and he asked people to continue to wear masks, social distance, sanitize hands and avoid crowds.


coronavirus Shelby County Health Department Tennessee Department of Health Pipkin Building Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris
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.


Reading comments and joining the conversation are some of the many benefits of subscribing. Join the conversation by clicking the View Comments button below. Not a subscriber? Click here. 

Our commenting policy can be viewed here