Tennessee continues to administer the COVID-19 vaccine, focusing on its highest-priority groups from its vaccine plan: health care workers, residents and staff of long-term health care facilities, first responders, and people older than 75.

Nationally, officials have faced criticism for vaccine distribution that has lagged in getting doses to patients. Only 10.7 million doses have been administered across the country despite distribution of more than 29.3 million doses. 

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced a series of major changes to increase supply of vaccines, extend eligibility to more seniors and provide more locations for people to get shots, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday. Administration officials describing the new policies conveyed a notable sense of urgency.

One change will have some teeth to it. Azar said going forward the federal government will base each state’s allocation of vaccines partly on how successful states have been in administering those already provided.

“If you are not using vaccines that you have the right to, then we should be rebalancing to states that are using that vaccine,” Azar said at news conference.

Azar also said the government will stop holding back the required second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, practically doubling supply. Both those shots require two doses to achieve optimum protection.

The move to increase the supply of vaccines better aligns the outgoing administration with the new Biden-Harris team. Last week, President-elect Joe Biden said he will rapidly release most available vaccine doses to protect more people. He said he supports immediately releasing vaccines that health authorities are holding back out of caution to guarantee they would be available for people needing their second dose.

“This next phase reflects the urgency of the situation,” said Azar. “Every vaccine dose sitting in a warehouse rather than going into an arm could mean one more death that could have been avoided.”

Additionally, Washington is urging states to immediately start vaccinating other groups lower down the priority scale, including people age 65 and older and younger people with certain health problems.

But Tennessee is holding off on expanding eligibility to younger groups. 

The state has reported 271,575 vaccinations, including 24,994 second doses out of 598,000 doses received. Cumberland County reports 5.22% of the population has received the first dose.

The current vaccines available require two inoculations about three weeks apart. It can then take another 14 days to build immune response against the virus. Health officials recommend everyone continue social distancing, proper hygiene and wear face coverings even after being vaccinated.

“The COVID-19 vaccine supply is still limited,” said Cumberland County Mayor Allen Foster Wednesday. “Tennessee counties may progress through COVID-19 vaccination phases at different times depending on supplies of COVID-19 vaccines and the number of individuals in each phase. The health department will announce additional opportunities for residents to receive vaccinations as vaccine supplies become available and as the county moves to new phases of the vaccination plan.”

The Cumberland County Health Department continues to offer appointments to individuals in the 1a1, 1a2 and 75 and older groups with limited vaccine available.

Other counties have expanded availability to the 1b group, which includes school and child care facility workers and first responder administrative personnel.

“You can contact the Cumberland County Health Department at 931-484-6196 to schedule an appointment for a first dose vaccination until the current supply is depleted,” Foster said. “You may have to try several times to get through as call volume is at historic levels due to the worldwide pandemic.”

People who received their first dose but did not get an appointment for a second dose will be contacted by the health department.

“These appointments will be made as doses are shipped, so the call may only come one or two days in advance,” Foster said.

Individuals can call the COVID-19 Public Information Line for general questions at 877-857-2945 or 833-556-2476 between 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The Cumberland County Health Department offers a local information line at 931-707-9007 available Monday-Friday from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Individuals in the eligible vaccine groups can get on a waiting list for a vaccine appointment online at www.signupgenius.com/go/cumberlandpriority.

Upcoming vaccine phases include:

Phase 1c: people 16 years old and older with high-risk health conditions

Phase 2: critical infrastructure workers

Phase 3: People in congregate living facilities, grocery store workers and people in correctional facilities

The state will also offer simultaneous age-based vaccinations as vaccine supplies allow, from 75 and older to 65 and older, 55 and older, 45 and older, 35 and older, 25 and older and 16 and older. The state had estimated it would move to the 65 and older group in February or March.

While only two vaccines have received emergency use authorization from the Federal Drug Administration, new vaccines are still in development. Johnson & Johnson announced Wednesday it is in the third stage of trials for a one-dose vaccine and could seek emergency authorization in February.

Cumberland County reported 634 active cases on Wednesday. There have been 70 deaths in the county due to COVID-19, an increase of 17 in the past week.

Cumberland County schools have remained in the “red” metric this week, with remote learning in place for students in grades 3-12. 

Free testing for COVID-19 continues at the Cumberland County Community Complex, 1398 Livingston Rd., Monday-Friday from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Self-testing is offered on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for anyone over age 18. Health department staff will provide testing on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

 

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