Counties can start vaccinating teachers and people ages 65 and older starting next week, the Tennessee Department of Health announced Tuesday as it unveiled several changes to the state’s COVID-19 vaccination process.
Beginning Monday, Feb. 22, TDH will permit counties to begin vaccinating this age group as well as those in the state vaccination plan’s Phase 1b — K-12 teachers, child care staff, first responder operations staff and air traffic controllers.
Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey told reporters during a press briefing that the move to another age bracket and phase is due to the state anticipating an increase in vaccine shipments in coming weeks.
“The only great limiting step is supply,” Piercey said about Tennessee’s vaccine distribution.
The state’s vaccine allocation for next week is expected to be 10% higher than this week, Piercey said, adding that the current weekly vaccine allocation is between 100,000 and 106,000. “That will add another 10,000 to 12,000 doses per week,” she said.
Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine could be thrown into the mix as early as the first week of March, Piercey said. The vaccine first needs the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization (EAU).
“I don’t have clear visibility on that just yet, but that’s just what we’re anticipating,” Piercey said.
The Johnson & Johnson doses Tennessee would receive will be in addition to the Pfizer-BioTech and Moderna vaccines already being sent to the state.
Vaccine doses are distributed to counties based on population. Large metro areas have lagged on distribution as their populations are significantly larger than rural counties.
As of Feb. 16, Davidson County was the only county in the state still working through vaccinations for people ages 75 and older.
Piercey said waiting for every county to catch up could mean wasted doses and fewer vaccinated Tennesseans.
“We’ve seen some other states really hold progress in progression of those phases until one particular phase is complete or nearly complete,” she said. “ ... They’re trying to get everybody in and yet it’s holding everybody else up.”
Corie Gouge, TDH’s Eastern Division public information officer, confirmed that Blount County specifically would be adhering to the state’s permission to move onto Phase 1b and those ages 65 and older.
Those eligible may schedule vaccination appointments via the state’s newly launched online tool at covid19.tn.gov.
The tool, which went live Monday, takes applicants through a questionnaire to determine their phases. Eligible vaccine recipients then select a time, date and location for their vaccine appointment — a system improvement after many Tennesseans reported issues with the previous sign-up sheet.
“You’ve heard me say many times that our goal here is to create a barrier-free system for all Tennesseans,” Piercey said, adding that more than 2,000 people already had booked appointments through the site.
Those who wish to make their vaccination appointment by phone still can do so by calling 865-549-5343.
Anybody already on the waitlist for a vaccination appointment will be contacted with a time and place, Gouge said.
Those 70 and older or in Phase 1a — health care workers, first responders, funeral and mortuary workers, and long-term care residents and staff — may schedule appointments now and are encouraged to do so even as the eligibility brackets widen.
“Our plan from Day 1 has always included what we call a sub-prioritization, which means that in any given category, those who are older and sicker should be prioritized first,” she said.