Getting a COVID-19 vaccine could become easier in the coming days as large pharmacy chains like Kroger and Food City will receive shipments through federal programming.

“While the demand has surpassed the availability of vaccine right now, do not be discouraged,” Blount Memorial Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Harold Naramore said. “Vaccine is becoming more available for distribution in our state, which hopefully means we’ll have more accessibility for our county’s residents.”

President Joe Biden on Feb. 2 announced the advent of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, a public-private partnership with 21 national pharmacy partners and networks with 40,000 locations nationwide, a White House press release states.

Initially, Tennessee had only Walmart pharmacies on the list to receive the shots — though the Alcoa and Maryville Walmart locations were not among those to get shipments.

But on Wednesday, Feb. 24, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed Kroger, Food City and Medicine Shoppe pharmacies as recipients of vaccines through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.

Kroger spokeswoman Melissa Eads told The Daily Times by email Thursday that that all Kroger pharmacies, including both in Blount County, had received doses of the Pfizer-BioTech vaccine.

“We are strongly encouraging all customers and associates to receive the vaccine to curb the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” said Jeremy Crain, health and wellness leader for Kroger’s Nashville division. “Through the launch of our new scheduling tool and COVID Help Line, Kroger is doing everything it can to ensure our communities have access to the vaccine as it becomes available.”

Appointments can be made by visiting kroger.com/covidvaccine or calling 866-211-5320.

Many people already have reported issues with the Kroger scheduling website. Blount County resident Heather Davis told The Daily Times she tried to register for a vaccination appointment, but glitches in the system wouldn’t let her.

“... (T)heir system won’t allow anyone to register for 1st doses without also scheduling a 2nd dose at the same time and they have no 2nd dose appointments available since they are only scheduling appointments for the next two weeks …” Davis emailed. “So you can’t schedule your first dose at any Kroger pharmacy under the current online system because it won’t allow anyone to proceed through the registration without scheduling a 2nd dose.”

Eads said Kroger is “aware that there are some issues with the scheduler and working to get that fixed as soon as possible.”

Food City locations in Alcoa and Maryville had not received vaccines as of Thursday, Feb. 25. A pharmacy worker at the West Broadway Avenue location who wished not to be named said they were expecting a shipment that day but had not yet received it.

The Daily Times on Wednesday emailed and phoned Food City’s corporate office in Abingdon, Virginia, to ask about a Blount timeline for vaccines. Neither were returned by press time Thursday.

Food City officially has not released how vaccination appointments will be scheduled.

Blount Countians also can get a vaccine at Blount Discount Pharmacy, which has been receiving vaccine shipments since mid-February. Appointments can be made at blountdiscountpharmacy.com.

Blount Discount pharmacist Hamilton Borden said the business had administered about 1,000 shots so far.

Borden said the pharmacy is doing its best to vaccinate as many people as possible, but with limited space and inconsistent shipments, it’s been difficult. To combat this, Blount Discount is looking to get as many first doses of the vaccine in arms as possible before moving on to administering second doses.

“The main thing is that we’re helping people get that first shot, and then we’re going to get that second shot as soon as we can, but what I’m trying to tell everyone is that if it’s not Day 28 on the dot, that’s OK,” he said.

Experts agree. An article published by the New England Journal of Medicine stated that one dose of the vaccine is 62% effective at preventing serious illness from COVID-19. The data comes following a mass vaccination campaign in Israel.

“I would rather see 100 million people have one dose than to see 50 million people have two doses,” Vanderbilt’s Dr. Buddy Creech told the Associated Press.

The Tennessee Department of Health reported that 5.99% of Blount County had received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 7% had received both. Altogether, 26,647 shots have been given to Blount Countians.

More than 10,600 of the shots have been administered by Blount Memorial Hospital, which is vaccinating people ages 65 and older with a primary care physician affiliated with Blount Memorial Physicians Group.

“Right now, we’re continuing to see a great demand for vaccine in our community, and that’s something to be excited about,” Naramore, the hospital’s chief medical officer, said. “The more people we can get vaccinated, the better the outcomes for our entire community.”

The Blount County Health Department also is administering the shots. To make an appointment, visit covid19.tn.gov or call 866-442-5301.

People in Phases 1a and 1b — health care workers, first responders and staff, funeral and mortuary workers, long-term care residents and staff, K-12 teachers and child care staff — and those ages 65 and older qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Follow @_shelbyharris on Twitter for more from county government reporter Shelby Harris.

Reporter

Shelby joined The Daily Times in 2019 as a reporter covering county government.

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