Next week, vaccine could be depleted by Thursday at mass sites

By , Daily Memphian Updated: March 25, 2021 3:25 PM CT | Published: March 25, 2021 12:46 PM CT

When the new vaccine appointment schedule is released Friday, March 26, for next week, for the first time the whole spectrum of adults, 16 and up, will be eligible to sign up.

The unfortunate coincidence of timing is that the city will also be running low on inventory, and unable to get more until after Easter.

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Based on the pace of shots going into arms this week, by Thursday, April 1, the five mass sites are expected to run out. 

“I could certainly slow it down and drag it out, but we’re trying to get as many shots in arms as quickly as we can,” Doug McGowen, chief operating officer for the city, said Thursday, March 25.

For weeks now, McGowen has been the overall strategist in charge of getting the trains to run on time in the countywide vaccination effort.

Some 14,000 shots will still be available through medical clinics and pharmacies next week, but the roughly 6,400 slots the city has been offering per day likely won’t be available next Friday and Saturday.

To see where shots are available across the county and make appointments, go here

How much vaccine will be available next Thursday will depend on the size of demand early next week.

The City of Memphis and the state of Tennessee have been receiving less vaccine due to the amount they have had sitting on the shelf.

Next week, the city will have worked through its excess inventory and be in line for 50,000 doses the week after Easter, 10,000 more than it has been receiving. 

“We’re trying to show that there is a demand signal here in Memphis and Shelby County,” McGowen said.

As the incidence of the highly contagious U.K. variant increases, city and health officials are in a race to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.

All the vaccines protect against serious disease with the U.K. variant. As of Monday, about 30% of the 300 samples tested for serious variants were identified as the U.K. or B.1.1.7 variant. 

By April 15, local virus modeling shows the U.K. variant will account for 50% of cases here. 

The strain is three times as contagious as the Wuhan strain. Health experts say the uptick in case numbers in Shelby County is proof it is circulating in the community. 

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One sign Shelby County might avoid shutdowns and large upticks in case numbers is the size of demand for vaccines.

“We are at a point where every time we get a vaccine in the community ... it is taking it up and taking it up rapidly,” McGowen said.

He expects it will be several weeks or more before demand tapers off, if then.

For months, the reproductive rate has been 0.8 or so. Early this week, it had inched up to 1.04, which means each person is spreading the infection to at least one other, and the virus is again on the grow.

New cases have been hovering around 100 a day. Thursday, March 25, 118 were reported and 10 deaths.

Health officials are watching the metrics, including the positivity rate, now at 3.7%

“If things start to increase or surge, then we’ll re-evaluate everything as a task force and make new recommendations,” said David Sweat, deputy director of the Shelby County Health Department.

“There’s no particular alarm bells going off at present,” he said.

Frequency of local UK variant doubles to 30% in weeks

The focus for months has been on vaccination, but health officials repeatedly warn it cannot eclipse testing.

“The first step in the process of protecting yourself and others, and the community at large is isolating whenever you are infected with COVID-19,” Sweat said.

The county has 16,000 testing slots each week. A special event is planned Saturday, March 27, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at White’s Chapel A.M.E Church, 1712 Fields Road; 150 tests will be available.

To help Hispanic people more easily access the vaccine, the city is adding more Spanish-speaking operators to the 222-SHOT line. It is also creating a bilingual signup format.

As a reminder, McGowen said, testing and vaccination centers do not require people to report citizenship status.

“The only thing we are interested in is getting people vaccinated. When we collect information, it is just the basic medical information.”


coronavirus coronavirus vaccine Doug McGowen David Sweat city of Memphis Shelby County Health Department
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.