Vaccination signups for residents 16 and older to open Friday

By , Daily Memphian Updated: March 23, 2021 12:11 PM CT | Published: March 22, 2021 12:16 PM CT

All residents age 16 and older will be eligible to get vaccine appointments beginning next week, Shelby County Health Department Deputy Director David Sweat told county commissioners Monday afternoon, March 22.

The City of Memphis, which is in control of vaccine distribution countywide, tweeted late Monday that it has 8,000 available appointments this week for those age 45 and up and it will open vaccination signups to ages 16 and older on Friday, March 26, for slots next week.

The news follows an announcement earlier Monday from Gov. Bill Lee saying all Tennessee adults will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccination no later than April 5.

Lee’s decision comes with expectations of more vaccine arriving, but uptake for available doses is lower than desired, particularly in West Tennessee, which could create logistical challenges.

“The federal government has asked us to make sure every adult can receive access by May 1. Tennessee will beat that deadline,” Lee said Monday on Facebook.

Several counties will begin vaccinating all adults in the upcoming days, he said.

Sweat was speaking to the commission Monday on behalf of the City of Memphis, which is in control of administering vaccines countywide now. 

Madison County opened its appointments over the weekend to all adults.

The state is improving access as more vaccine becomes available and it grapples with lower percentages than expected of people willing to take it. 

Next week, for instance, the supply of first doses will increase by 30% as more of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is shipped, bringing the total weekly doses in Tennessee to more than 350,000, said Dr. Lisa Piercey, commissioner of the state Health Department.

State says Shelby getting its fair share of COVID vaccine

Without adding demand, state officials have worried the doses could just sit on a shelf.

“We anticipated some degree of that. But quite frankly, we did not anticipate to have such a low uptake in some of our areas,” Piercey said.

“While we are having lower uptake levels, that means we have an excess supply. And you’ve heard me say for months now, the last thing I want is any vaccine sitting on a shelf somewhere,” Piercey said.

The situation is worst in West Tennessee, where in some cases, only 20% of appointment slots are being filled. In the upper regions of Middle Tennessee, more than 80% of appointments are being filled.

“It’s a challenge to try to find the right balance of supply and demand. That’s why we feel that it’s really important for counties to be able to move at their own pace up to and including opening it up to all adults,” she said.

People 55 and above who were allowed to schedule shots for the first time Thursday, March 18.

On the same day, the state also opened vaccine to people in certain essential industries, which include child and adult protective services, commercial agriculture, commercial food processing, corrections staff, transportation, postal workers and public infrastructure, including people who pick up and process solid waste, utilities and energy.

To accommodate the categories of people scheduled for vaccination this spring, including an estimated 200,000 grocery employees and college students, Piercey said the state will provide extra vaccine.

“They will still get priority; they’re just not going to have a specific timeframe,” she said.

As other states open vaccinations to all adults, Tenn. defends its slow approach

Tennessee is getting a black eye nationally for the pace of its vaccination efforts. Monday, Tennessee ranked 47th in the nation for the number of people vaccinated per 100,000. Only Alabama and Georgia are lower.

Piercey has spoken often in the last few weeks of the trade off between equity and speed, saying Tennessee focused on equity, including access for the elderly and poor.

Monday, she said she was “wholly unapologetic” that Tennessee slowed things down initially for the elderly and vulnerable populations. 

When the state started moving more quickly in early to mid-February, it was hit along with many other Southern states by a week of snowstorms.

“If you look back at the rankings, what you saw around mid-February is that all of those states, mostly Southern states affected by the snowstorm, really went to the bottom of the list,” she said.

Those states, she said, have stayed down because they share significant populations of African Americans, low-income workers and rural conservatives, all of which have been more hesitant to be vaccinated.

State health department directors across the South are brainstorming ways to change the trajectory, she said.

“As long as uptake is low, our rankings are going to be pretty low because we do not make this vaccine mandatory,” Piercey said.

The state has more than a 500,000 appointments available every week. For people who live in urban areas where appointments are still going fast, they may travel to a nearby county.

To see appointments statewide, go to vaccinefinder.org. The federally run site allows people to choose their vaccine by brand and select the distance they are willing to travel to get it.

Locally, appointments can be scheduled online or by calling 901-222-7468 (SHOT).


Gov. Bill Lee Dr. Lisa Piercey
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.