Hamilton County COVID-19 Vaccine Plan Changes; Concerns About Reaching Herd Immunity

More People Moved Up In Line For COVID Vaccination, How Decisions Are Made To Move Between Tiers And Concerns About Reaching Herd Immunity. 

Hamilton County, TN – Over recent weeks, the Covid-19 vaccine began its early phases of being released. This meant front line health care workers and some high-risk people were the first in Hamilton County to receive it.

Now that Tennessee is moving into the next stages of release, more Hamilton County Residents will be able to get the vaccine. 

All residents over 75 will be able to receive the vaccine, even if they are not high risk.  

Another change to the plan was moving K-12 teachers and child care workers up on the priority list. This put them ahead of infrastructure workers and adults with high-risk medical conditions. Adults over the age of 65 also moved up on the list.  

Even though these groups were moved forward on the vaccination line, they will not be able to receive it until February or March when the next phase begins.

While the Tennessee Department of Health released predictions of when future phases would start, there is not yet a confirmed date for any of them.  

Dr. Lisa Piercey, the Tennessee Health Commissioner, stated that these changes were made to protect the most vulnerable citizens while also reducing risks to the health care system. As each new phase begins, people in lower age brackets will become eligible for the vaccine, no matter what job or health conditions they have. 

“Our plan is based on Tennessee data. We know that over half of Tennesseans who are hospitalized [with COVID-19] are 65 plus, and 80% of our deaths are 65 plus,” Piercey said.  “We know how critically important schools are to the functioning of our society and our economy — not only keeping kids in schools so they can learn and be educated but also keeping parents at work.” 

Individuals who are over 18 who can’t live on their own due to disability or other medical issues also recently became eligible for the vaccine.

In Hamilton County, some of the groups who can receive the vaccine are health care workers with direct patient exposure, student health providers, workers at Covid testing sites, and first responders.  

Residents of Hamilton County eligible for vaccination can go to the vaccine site on Amnicola Highway. To receive the vaccine, people must bring proof of eligibility as well as a work ID or proof of residency.  

In a press release Hamilton County Health Commissioner, Becky Barnes said, ”We realize information is changing quickly about the vaccine distribution.  We ask for the continued patience of our residents as our staff works through the challenges this massive undertaking brings.”  

At the Hamilton County Commission Recessed and Agenda meeting yesterday morning, December 30th, District 4 County Commissioner Warren Mackey asked Barnes, “We keep hearing that the Federal Government has distributed millions and millions of the vaccines but not enough people are getting in their arms.  Can you say where we are with that?” 

Barnes stated that Hamilton County has received 3,400 doses of the Moderna vaccine, one shipment (975 doses) of the Pfizer vaccine and that over the next two days the last doses of Moderna will be administered. 

Barnes stated the Health Department is preparing to administer the Pfizer vaccines, which require different protocols and procedures. 

Mackey asked, “How much local control do we have in regards to dispensing the vaccines?” 

Barnes stated the Health Department has no control over how many vaccines they receive.   

“Our communication with the State is ‘send us as much as you can, we will give every shot you can send us’,” Barnes said.  

Barnes expressed that the Health Department has no authority to change the Tiers but does have the authority to move between Tiers. 

Barnes stated that as things start to slow down within one Tier, or if an assessment is made that indicates more capacity can be handled, then an additional Tier can start being vaccinated. 

“That is why we added the 1A2 yesterday (Tuesday the 29th) …Any time we open up another Tier, the first Tier is always open,” Barnes said. 

Mackey asked, “If you think they’re dragging their feet, do you wait and wait or do you go ahead and offer it to the next group of people?”  

“People are dying every day…and some of the decisions coming down from the top don’t seem to be the best decisions as far as I’m concerned,” Mackey said. “Our Governor has been very slow to acknowledge what was going on and even masking has been an issue.  As much as we can locally control those decisions and get this vaccine in people’s arms, I think we’re going to save lives.” 

Barnes stated that their goal every day is to get as many people vaccinated as possible and that three local hospitals have the vaccine and are administering it daily. 

The three hospitals received vaccines for their staff and were instructed by the State to give the vaccine to their direct care staff first. 

“If they have any vaccine left after they’ve given it to everybody that has direct patient care, then they can begin offering it to other people in the hospital that might not have direct patient care,” Barnes said. “Then they can start offering it to maybe outpatient providers that work in conjunction with the hospital.” 

“So hospitals are not vaccinating the public at large, they are vaccinating their own staff and people who have an association with them.” said Barnes. 

Barnes indicated that they expect their next shipment of vaccines to arrive early next week. 

“Hopefully, we will get notice from the State before the end of the week of how much vaccine will be sent so we will know how to prepare for next week,” Barnes said. 

District 3 Commissioner Greg Martin raised concerns that the State may be sending Hamilton County fewer vaccines due to the speed and efficiency they are being administered.  He asked if there is a possibility the State holds out distributing more in order for other counties to catch up. 

Barnes stated that the vaccines are distributed to Hamilton County from the State based on population.   

“I would think that if they’re sending us thousands of doses and we’re not getting them in people, then they might not keep sending as much supply but my goal is to get every dose they send in as fast as they send it so they say, ‘Hamilton County could use more.’ ” Barnes said. 

Regarding the speed of vaccinations and the moving from one Tier to the next, Barnes stated that for Tier 1A1, the Health Department itself will not be vaccinating the majority. 

“Those are nursing home residents,” said Barnes. “The residents will be vaccinated by in large through corporate contracts with big pharmaceutical companies, Walgreen’s and CVS, those kinds of companies.”  

District 6 Commissioner David Sharpe raised concerns about the reluctance many people have to getting the vaccine and if that percentage of people could possibly keep the public from reaching herd immunity to the virus. 

Sharpe asked Barnes, “Do you have any indication that there is too great a reluctance to receive this vaccination for us to get our desired results from this? Are we in line where we need to be?” 

Barnes stated, “I don’t see what I think, here currently in Hamilton County, is undue reluctance just by the fact that today we opened up a Tier and there’s a lot of interest in vaccine.” 

Barnes expressed that she believes there will be people that will hold off on receiving the vaccine until they see how it works out with others but she is not concerned at present that they will not reach their goals. 

District 5 Commissioner Katherlyn Geter asked about the procedure by which those who have already received the first dose will go about getting the second dose in roughly a month’s time. 

Barnes stated that those who receive their first dose get an appointment card specific to the vaccine they were administered and for those that opt-in, an appointment reminder will be sent via text message. 

Geter asked Barnes, “What happens if they don’t return?  Do they have to return on that specific date to get their second dose and if they miss it, then what?” 

Barnes expressed that the desired administration for the second dose is within two to three days of the prescribed return date. 

“The guidance is if you don’t return within two to three days, then vaccinate as soon as possible,” Barnes stated, “There is no guidance from any vaccination experts to restart any vaccination series but clearly, we want to vaccinate them on time so they get their appropriate level of immunity as fast as possible.” 

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