White House Announces COVID-19 Task Force That Includes Two Tennesseeans as Residents Question Vaccine Equity And State Begins Investigation Into Nearly 1000 Lost Doses In Knox County.
Published February 11, 2021
Biden’s administration is introducing a COVID-19 health equity task force, including two residents of Nashville, to allocate funds and “improve outreach” to vulnerable communities.
The health equity task force is made up of 12 members across the nation. They are each considered an expert in their field.
Bobby Watts, CEO of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council and Dr. James Hildreth, the 12th president and CEO of Meharry Medical College were named as part of the force from Tennessee.
This announcement was made as residents across the state express concern about vaccine rollout and prioritization.
One Hamilton County business owner and barber that continues to serve a regular clientele including many first responders and police officers reported being turned away from their scheduled vaccine appointment despite site staff agreeing she met eligibility on paper; “We just aren’t vaccinating barbers yet.”
In addition to a myriad of the most vulnerable residents, major state representatives have also expressed varying discontent with how the vaccine has been distributed.
Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey holds firm in her statements that teachers and school staff do not need to be vaccinated to head back to class because they’re at lower risk for death and hospitalization.
However, Senator Bill Hagerty disagrees. He says the Biden administration needs to put a bigger emphasis on helping schools and teachers.
“We need to get our schools open now. It’s going to be good for our kids, it’s going to be good for America, and to the extent we don’t get this done, we’re setting an entire generation behind,” Hagerty said.
The White House claims with more plans and vaccination sites, the administration might be able to bring all students back into the classroom.
“Our objective, the president’s objective, is for all schools to reopen, to stay open, to be open five days a week, for kids to be learning, that our focus is on,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
Statistics don’t seem to reflect that goal.
The State Health Department reports that they’ve vaccinated more than 270,000 Tennesseans over the age of 71, representing roughly 47% of all the vaccines they’ve been given. This raises questions of vaccine equity and who’s being left behind.
Teachers seem to be next on the list, but at this rate it will be a while before every Tennessee teacher is vaccinated. Some have already crossed county lines, participating in “medical tourism,” to get vaccinated prior to returning to school.
This is discouraged, but the state certainly seems aware of the pressures being placed on educators during this pandemic.
“My focus has been on those who are going to be sick and die from COVID-19 vaccinated first,” said Governor Bill Lee. “As vaccines increase, we will be vaccinating teachers in the first priority after the elderly.”
While legislators remain in conflict about the vaccine, the task force is intended to ensure better handling of the process.
Within hours of Biden’s task force announcement, Knox County Health Department requested the state to investigate 975 second-dose Pfizer vaccines that have gone missing.
The state confirmed the shipment to KCHD, but they have no record of receiving the vaccines, believing at this time that they were “accidentally discarded.”
Stay tuned as we watch for task force response and updates on vaccine protocols across the state.