Tips for Navigating Tennessee’s New Vaccine Eligibility

Just over two months after community vaccination efforts, operations at Hamilton County’s largest vaccination site in Enterprise South Nature Park are helping officials vaccinate more than 1,300 new people per day.

Lisa Vincent, site manager for Enterprise South’s health department, said the site near Collegedale may expand to serve more patients as vaccine supplies increase and more people become eligible.

The department is running a short circuit through the park to coordinate cars between the waiting line, the intake area, the injection site and the waiting area. A larger loop through the park would allow the site to handle more people, Vincent said.

But local systems will be further emphasized Monday, when those with chronic conditions such as hypertension or obesity are eligible to receive doses after the state and county expanded their eligibility requirements on Tuesday. The county is administering doses to workers in Phase 1a1, 1a2 and 1b, phases that include healthcare workers, first responders and education personnel, as well as those 65 and older.

Starting Monday, the state and county will include Phase 1c, which includes people with chronic illnesses and weak immune systems, pregnant women, people receiving chemotherapy and people with HIV / AIDS. The measure is likely to add tens of thousands of people to the county’s eligible list. According to the county health department, eight of the top 10 causes of death locally were due to chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer. About one in three Hamilton County adults is obese, according to a 2019 study on the county’s health.

These conditions are more likely to affect black residents than whites in the county, according to the study. Limited access to health care and a lack of funding for health interventions have made some Hamilton County zip codes among the worst in the state for negative health outcomes.

The county averaged 1,368 first-dose shots per day and 853 second-dose shots per day over the past week, according to data from the Hamilton County Health Department. More than 15,700 doses were administered in the county last week, including the first and second injections. While supplies remain limited given demand and the size of the eligible population, they are expected to increase in the coming weeks.

On Tuesday, Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said the state expects to receive 192,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine this week, as well as 54,000 doses of the newly licensed Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“So by the end of the month, it’s plausible that we can get more than 300,000 shots per week,” Piercey said. “That excites me to think, because that’s the complete opposite of what I was telling you just 30 days ago, where we were struggling to get maybe 80,000 a week in the state.”

As guidelines on who is eligible for the vaccine facility and supplies increase, here’s what you need to know about the changes:


Finding an available vaccine could take longer for a while

Wednesday’s announcement that Tennessee will move to phase 1c opens vaccines to the broadest group of people yet, and demand for vaccines already outstripped supply before the latest eligibility expansion. Although state allocations continue to rise, and Tennessee expects to receive about 300,000 doses of vaccine per week by the end of the month, a low estimate is that 1.1 million Tennesseans have health conditions or living circumstances that make them eligible again.

All providers who administer vaccines must adhere to the state’s immunization plan, which describes who is eligible and can be found on the Tennessee Department of Health website.

However, some providers, including all health department sites in the region, do not require newly eligible applicants to offer proof of their conditions and instead rely on the “honor system.” That move could open the door to more people who technically shouldn’t get vaccinated until later stages to flood the system.

Finding open slots will be easier in the spring. President Joe Biden said Tuesday that there should be enough doses to cover all American adults by the end of May thanks to a new agreement under which the pharmaceutical company Merck will help Johnson & Johnson increase its production of coronavirus vaccines. .

Until then, be patient and explore all the options available in your area, health officials said.

“Get it wherever you can, whenever you can,” said Cara Barrett, COVID-19 team director at Galen Medical Group. “If you’re on our waiting list, but there’s a vacancy in the county, go to the county and get it. I think the common goal is to achieve herd immunity as quickly as possible.”

There are more places and ways to get vaccinated

Although demand will be high, many different locations now offer vaccines, and casting a wide web in your search could mean the difference between getting an injection sooner rather than later.

In addition to local health departments, an increasing number of independent pharmacies, large retail chains, and doctor’s offices are beginning to offer vaccinations to eligible individuals, regardless of whether they are a regular or established patient. Vaccine “pop-up” events, such as those that occurred over the weekend in some Hamilton County schools, are beginning to happen and plans to host large-scale mass vaccination events are underway. Some providers have waiting lists of “back-up” people they can call if leftover doses are available.

Also, be sure to check with your primary care provider to see if they plan to offer vaccines or if they can help you find a place to get one.

With these new sites, new ways to sign up are emerging, and almost all locations require an appointment, but use different processes that do not communicate with each other. The Hamilton County Health Department has its own registration system and requirements that are different from other health departments in the region, which use the state website to register.

The website attempts to list the locations in a certain area that are approved to administer vaccines, but individuals must call or go online to determine each provider’s processes. As of Wednesday, 50 sites were listed within a 50-mile radius of Chattanooga.

One of them is Galen Pharmacy, an independent pharmacy in Chattanooga affiliated with Galen Medical Group.

Aaron Garst, Galen’s director of pharmacy, said that while Galen is listed on as an available vaccine, that doesn’t mean that just anyone can come forward and get a shot. Galen’s process is to have eligible people call his hotline to be screened and put on a waiting list, which now has more than 1,000 people.

Availability depends on the amount of supply the state assigns to Galen, and that remains extremely limited.

“We still have people who are in [their] 70, 80, 90 who have not received this vaccine and we are trying to be as equitable as possible, “Garst said.” When we have doses available, we can call those people and bring them here. “

Often when Galen calls the people on his list, patients have already managed to find a vaccine elsewhere.

More vaccine options are available

Until this week, the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were the only options. But over the weekend, a third Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine was licensed for use in the United States and will be available in Tennessee this week.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are each 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 symptoms after two doses, but it is difficult to compare them with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because their clinical trials were conducted differently.

Johnson & Johnson’s single injection was found to be around 70% effective in preventing COVID-19, but for severe or critical illness, the vaccine was 85.4% effective after 28 days.

Most of the sites that have been offering Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will likely continue to do so for now, and availability of Johnson & Johnson vaccine in Tennessee is expected to be limited through the end of the month.

In general, sites will only offer one type of vaccine, which they must disclose during registrations.

Contact Elizabeth Fite at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @ecfite.

Contact Wyatt Massey at [email protected] or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @ news4mass.


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