Next four weeks ‘critical’ as federal vaccine help likely to move on in May

By , Daily Memphian Updated: April 22, 2021 4:10 PM CT | Published: April 22, 2021 12:47 PM CT

COVID-19 vaccine capacity in public sites is expected to draw down considerably in mid-May, local health officials said Thursday, April 22, when the FEMA installation at Pipkin moves to the next city and leases on the public sites expire.

When FEMA leaves, the county will also lose the 21,000 doses a week that come with the partnership, plus 170 military personnel.

Low vaccine turnout raises questions about how long military needed at Pipkin

“The next four weeks are critical,” said City of Memphis COO Doug McGowen.

Based on recent demand, which is not significantly higher than when Federal Emergency Management Agency arrived, it is unlikely the installation will be extended.

The city has capacity to deliver 60,000 shots a week. At the current rate, it will be lucky to give 20,000, he said.

“We will take a look at the demand we have at that time versus the capacity we have to deliver. And you could and should expect us to scale back our ability to deliver to match the demand at that time,” McGowen said.

“But, I want to be clear. Between now and the third week in May, we are going to maintain the capacity to do 60,000 vaccines per week.”

Besides leases that expire in May, some partner sites are planning to draw down operations around May 22.

After May 17, it will be harder to find vaccine anywhere in the county, he said.

“People may have to take advantage of some of the private enterprises that are offering vaccines, and there’s nothing wrong with that – Walmart, Walgreens, CVS are all great partners – but, it won’t be as simple as simply driving to one of the five or six fixed sites to get a vaccine,” he said.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to drive up demand in the short term.”

The goal from the beginning has been to vaccinate 70% of the population of Shelby County, which is 510,000 people, excluding children (656,000 total). COVID vaccines have not yet been approved for children under 16.

As of late morning Thursday, 302,000 people had received at least one dose.

“We are not there yet,” McGowen said.

If all the public sites were to operate at capacity for the next four weeks, another 240,000 people would be added to the rolls.

To eliminate obstacles, the city is not requiring appointments next week on specific days at most of the sites. For instance, on Monday and Tuesday, appointments will not be required at First Baptist Church in Germantown. 

To see the schedule by day and site, go to It will also be posted on the city’s social media accounts and through Next Door.

On the no-appointment days, a fixed number of doses will be available, which means people could be turned away, as the Shelby County Health Department had to do early in the vaccination campaign.

“With appointments, we predict how many will come, and we provide doses to meet demand,” McGowen said.

“And when those vaccines are out at that site for that day, that site will close.”

People without appointments are advised to show up early in the day.

Frayser is an important node in the vaccination effort because its population has higher level of variants and also low vaccination participation.

The city, in partnership with Southwest Tennessee Community College, this week opened a vaccination clinic in Frayser at the Gill campus, 3833 Mountain Terrace. It is open Tuesdays and Thursdays; appointments are not required.

Tuesday, fewer than 100 people came for shots. Thursday, the city added $20 gift cards to sweeten the deal. That offer extends to Friday at the Greater Imani Church, 3824 Austin Peay in Raleigh, and the STCC Whitehaven clinic at 1234 Finley Road.

Southwest opening Frayser COVID-19 vaccine site

Epidemic is growing

Health officials aren’t calling it a surge yet but the epidemic is definitely growing with a reproduction rate of 1.13.

At that level, one person with an active case of COVID is spreading it to 1.13 others, said David Sweat, deputy director of the Shelby County Health Department.

“We know that the future number of cases is going to be higher than the current number of cases in this epidemic. That is going to continue to be true for however long it is that the reproductive rate stays above 1.

“From a commonsense point of view, I would say yes, we’re growing the epidemic right now, and we won’t see that change until the reproductive rate dips back below 1,” he said.

Statistical evidence suggests the infection rates are growing in DeSoto County, Fayette County and in the Cumberland region in the northeast part of Tennessee, including Sullivan County.

As health officials work to think of new ways to create urgency around the vaccine, they are also looking at the message itself and the messengers.

“We have asked folks to look at some of the psychology of vaccine hesitancy, the psychology of the behavior around vaccines. It appears there is no one answer that addresses the hesitancy, but it’s a number of things,” Sweat said.

“For some people, it’s doing it to protect people around them; they may not think they need it for themselves. But, it’s about appealing to their desire to protect those they care about, and for others, it is really about breaking down misinformation and providing people with good information,” he said.

“We are not going to quit. And we will continue to do everything we can to get correct information out there to individuals.”


coronavirus coronavirus vaccine David Sweat Doug McGowen
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.